May 24, 2019

Battle Over Trump’s Finances

Editors' note: Happy Memorial Day weekend! Assuming there isn’t a revolution in the next few days, we’ll be back in full swing Wednesday morning. Pro tip if you’re visiting family: mentioning The Flip Side is a great way to diffuse tense political debates! ;)

“A federal judge ruled against President Donald Trump on Monday in a financial records dispute with Congress and said lawmakers should get the documents they have subpoenaed… [the judge] said the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee had ‘valid legislative purposes’ for its request and that it was not for him ‘to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.’” AP News

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that “a confidential Internal Revenue Service legal memo says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege [which Trump has not done].” Washington Post

See past issues

From the Left

The left is encouraged by the rulings, which they hope will expose any improprieties in Trump’s finances.

The rulings “[affirm] Congress’ authority to scrutinize the executive branch. Under the Constitution, congressional committees have broad power to conduct investigations, both to carry out its enumerated powers (like impeachment) and to inform potential legislation. The Supreme Court has held that courts have a limited ability to impede Congress’ oversight so long as its actions fall within a ‘legitimate legislative sphere.’ So long a congressional committee has stated a facially legitimate justification for its investigation, courts must treat its subpoenas as valid…

“[In order for Trump to prevail, courts would]  have to look beyond the House’s stated justifications to uncover some impermissible motive. A majority court refused to engage in such scrutiny when evaluating Trump’s own policies, such as his travel ban, even in the face of significant public evidence of unlawful motives; it would be odd if the conservative justices applied a more stringent standard to the (Democratic) House.”
Mark Joseph Stern, Slate

This feels like one of the more important lines from [the judge]… ‘The critical inquiry then is not legislative certainty, but legislative potential.’ Simply put, congressional investigations do not have to be fixed to a specific policy proposal or action.”
Kurt Bardella, NBC News

Moreover, “in [the] legal fight, the Trump administration now no longer can claim a fully united front. Sure, Mnuchin can say Treasury's lawyers advised him that he has the ability to turn down a request for Trump's tax returns if there is no ‘legitimate legislative purpose.’ But the memo -- which comes from the agency specifically tasked with handling the tax returns of Americans -- directly contradicts that view. And it's not a memo that Neal and his fellow House Democrats put together. It's a memo from the damn IRS!
Chris Cillizza, CNN

“The president claims that no Congress has subjected a president to his current level of scrutiny… [But] anyone who remembers the 1990s will recognize an immediate flaw in this argument. President Bill Clinton’s business dealings pertaining to real estate investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation were the target of multiple congressional investigations, in addition to a multi-pronged inquiry conducted by then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr… ‘non-stop investigations into the personal lives of presidents’ is, if anything, an ‘old normal’...

The president always had the ability to prevent wide-ranging inquiries into his business dealings — including the one pertaining to his relationship with Deutsche Bank and Capital One — simply by following the recommendations of his own ethics officers… Namely, divest himself of his assets and place the proceeds into a blind trust.”
Jason Linkins, ThinkProgress

“In the past, presidents have gone to almost any length to assure the public that there wouldn’t be even the barest suggestion of impropriety regarding their personal finances. Jimmy Carter put his peanut farm in a trusteeship. Barack Obama refused to refinance his mortgage when rates fell… ‘People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,’ Richard M. Nixon said in November 1973, insisting that he welcomed an examination into his personal finances. What he said next — ‘I am not a crook’ — might not have been true, but at the very least he paid lip service to the idea that if the president was in fact a crook, the American public ought to know about it.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

The right is critical of the subpoenas, which they believe are being used for partisan advantage rather than any legitimate legislative purpose.

From the Right

The right is critical of the subpoenas, which they believe are being used for partisan advantage rather than any legitimate legislative purpose.

“At some point the Supreme Court will have to find a way to apply a limiting principle to congressional authority in regard to the executive branch… The alternative, where Congress has investigative authority without limit, promises an outcome where no executive from a competing party can possibly govern. We will have backed into a proxy parliamentary system, where the executive serves at the whim of one or both chambers of Congress…

“The president derives his or her authority directly from the states and the voters, not Congress, and that is where political accountability should lie as well. The attempts by the House to overwhelm this administration with subpoenas and contempt actions is an attempt to usurp the authority of both the states and voters… It will set precedents that both parties will exploit for revenge, and both parties will live to regret.”
Ed Morrissey, The Week

“America cannot operate this way.Hounding presidents with investigations cannot become a substitute for elections… too many House Democrats, without any Republican support on their committees, have launched unrestrained and unprecedented new investigations of not only the president, but also his family and his businesses – falsely using their limited powers of subpoena in broad and unprecedented ways.”
Mark Penn, Fox News

“During the 1950s, liberals and civil libertarians were deeply concerned about the abuses of congressional investigations… committee leaders would claim that they had legitimate legislative purposes in subpoenaing actors, professors and government employees to interrogate them about their past political affiliations… The obvious purpose was to expose, embarrass and unemploy left-wing individuals associated with the Communist Party during the 1930s… [Similarly] under this decision… Congress could investigate any person for any reason as long as it pretends to be doing so for a legitimate legislative purpose…

“The courts should look beneath the claimed justifications for investigations of individuals and decide whether these justifications represent the real reasons behind the issuance of subpoenas and other exercises of congressional power. There should be a balancing test to weigh the legitimate interests of Congress against the rights of those targeted by its investigations. Congress should not be given carte blanche, as the decision by Judge Mehta gives it, to investigate anyone and anything for any purpose as long as the committee chairmen can recite the correct words as purported justifications for their actions.”
Alan Dershowitz, The Hill

“The privacy of tax returns is a vital part of our entire revenue system. It prevents the tax collection process from being weaponized for political, personal, or other venal motives… [furthermore] Trump’s reluctance to make public his personal and proprietary financial information is completely reasonable, especially given how his political enemies – the very people making these demands – have time and again attempted to spin even the most innocent trivialities into election-season ‘scandals.’...

“Trump has already acknowledged that his tax returns are under IRS audit… If there is any evidence of irregularities in his tax returns, there are already professional, non-partisan, career investigators with full authority to find it… it’s perfectly obvious that there is no legislative or public policy motive behind the hunt for the Trump tax returns. This is all about politics.”
Andy Puzder, Fox News

Regarding the decision to label China a currency manipulator, “traders may fear the tiny devaluation signals trade conflict spreading to currency. [But] this is highly unlikely, because a steep devaluation would be destabilizing for China… If an extended depreciation is encouraged or permitted, RMB holders can only guess what level the government truly wants. Last time around — four years ago — they chose large-scale capital flight rather than trusting the People’s Bank. China’s economy is slower, older, and more indebted than back then. Most importantly, it no longer has the foreign exchange to afford a repeat of 2015–6. That’s why the People’s Bank is likely to continue to defend the RMB near 7 to the dollar.”
Derek M. Scissors, The National Interest

“Trump should be overjoyed. Tariffs are taxes paid by Americans on the things Americans buy. The only way China can be paying any of them is if something else, something extra, then happens — like the yuan dropping. This makes all imports into China more expensive for Chinese citizens. That's China paying for Trump's tariffs when the yuan falls. Without this happening, only Americans pay. With the yuan dropping, China pays as well. This is the claim Trump has been making all along, that China's really paying those trade taxes — now they are… Imposing significant export tariffs on a country should mean the value of that currency falls. This is what is happening. Why is Trump complaining about it?
Tim Worstall, Washington Examiner

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

Outside Hong Kong, the silence Is deafening… Some protesters in Hong Kong today are adopting the British Union Jack flag, the American flag and the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ as symbols, yet that doesn’t seem to have stirred our collective imaginations… Americans are preoccupied with fighting each other over political correctness, gun violence, Trump and the Democratic candidates for president. To be sure, those issues deserve plenty of attention. But they are soaking up far too much emotional energy, distracting attention from the all-important struggles for liberty around the world…

“It’s 2019, and the land of the American Revolution, a country whose presidents gave stirring speeches about liberty and freedom in Berlin during the Cold War, remains in a complacent slumber. It really is time to Make America Great Again — if only we could remember what that means.”
Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg

On the bright side...

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