December 2, 2019

Trump’s Tax Returns

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

Last Monday, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of a House subpoena for President Trump’s financial records “until the president’s lawyers file a petition for review of the D.C. Circuit’s decision. The move provides a reprieve for Trump for now, and it likely sets the stage for a broader showdown over the subpoena early next year, with a decision to follow by late June.” SCOTUSblog

Early in November, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “President Donald Trump’s tax returns can be turned over to New York prosecutors by his personal accountant.” This case is also awaiting potential Supreme Court review. AP News

Sidenote: in mid-November, the California Supreme Court ruled that “President Donald Trump does not have to disclose his tax returns to appear as a candidate on California’s primary ballot next spring.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that House Democrats and New York prosecutors are within their rights to request Trump’s tax returns for oversight and law enforcement purposes.

“Trump’s legal arguments, it should be noted, are exceedingly weak. As the Court explained in Eastland v. United States Servicemen’s Fund (1975), Congress’s investigatory power is broad, and it extends to subpoenas ‘intended to gather information about a subject on which legislation may be had.’ The lower courts that heard [the case] agreed that the House subpoena was properly issued because the House is considering legislation that would impose stronger financial disclosure requirements on the president’…

“Moreover, as the Supreme Court explained in Clinton v. Jones (1997), ‘we have never suggested that the President, or any other official, has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity.’ Thus, because the House seeks records unrelated to Trump’s actions as president, Trump’s argument that he can resist this particular subpoena is especially weak.”
Ian Millhiser, Vox

“In their Supreme Court stay petition, Trump’s lawyers… [argued] that, ‘[g]iven the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into the personal lives of Presidents’ could ‘become our new normal in times of divided government.’ It is particularly audacious for Trump—who faces impeachment for trying to extort a foreign country into [smearing] a political rival—to be warning the Supreme Court about the supposed dangers of Congress using formal, legal tools to obtain evidence regarding potential presidential misconduct.”
David R. Lurie, Daily Beast

“Trump has flouted many norms, but the question over his taxes has become a sort of touchstone. He has promised to release them and reneged so many times that it would be a bigger surprise if he wasn't hiding something. Whether it's his foreign business ties, stretching of the tax laws, poor business judgment, or some combination, it is important that the American public see his returns…

“If the Supreme Court can hold this President accountable and do so unanimously, it will add to its credibility in these polarizing times. Chief Justice Roberts has called for more consensus and less politicization of the courts, but there would be no more striking example of the independence and integrity of the Court than a unanimous decision here.”
Michael Gordon, Business Insider

“It is doubtful that the court would issue this unusual order if they planned to turn Trump away in a few weeks. More likely, the justices wanted to punt, putting off any real resolution for the time being. By doing so, however, they are only building anticipation for a fairly epic battle down the road. Presuming the justices take the case, they will hear arguments in the winter or spring and issue a decision by June, in the midst of the presidential campaign. Chief Justice John Roberts—who is almost certainly the swing vote in this case—will soon have to decide whether to run interference for Trump or respect Congress’ oversight authority.”
Mark Joseph Stern, Slate

Regarding the New York case, “The court was careful to emphasize that the subpoena did not seek information about activities undertaken by the president in his official capacity. Nor could Trump claim executive privilege, because the records sought by the district attorney did not include any conversations between Trump and his White House advisers. Here’s the basic point: Nothing in the Constitution gives the president a right to enjoin a subpoena issued to third parties who hold his records. The impeachment clause creates no such right. And if a prosecutor obtains those records, it would be pretty wild to say that a president would be rendered unable to do his job.”
Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right is critical of efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, arguing that they are politically motivated and set a dangerous precedent for future politicians and citizens alike.

From the Right

The right is critical of efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, arguing that they are politically motivated and set a dangerous precedent for future politicians and citizens alike.

“Is there a credible claim that a crime has been committed, leading to the exposure of a citizen’s tax returns? In this instance, consider the source of the fishing expedition that the Oversight Committee has embarked upon. The entire thing was based on claims made by Michael Cohen. Yes, that would be the same Michael Cohen who was forced to show up and apologize to Congress for all the lies he told them while under oath in 2017. It’s the same Michael Cohen who was convicted of multiple counts of tax evasion and related crimes. It’s the same Michael Cohen that was convicted of perjury after lying to Congress about Trump. It’s the same Michael Cohen who has been at war with the President ever since he was pretty much thrown under the bus by his old boss.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Trump should follow the precedent of all the men elected president since Richard Nixon. He should voluntarily release his tax returns… The public deserves to know from where Trump is earning his money. The possibility that he has a source of income we don’t know about leaves open the possibility of corruption, and it at least leaves one unnecessary reason why some might believe that there is corruption…

“[By refusing to release the documents] Trump has now invited Democrats to take harmful steps to force him to disclose them. House Democrats have considered using Congress’s oversight of the IRS simply to yank Trump’s returns. Congress has the power to review individuals’ tax returns as a means of monitoring whether the tax code is working as intended. Yet the use of this power to get the president’s taxes — and inevitably leak them — would be a brazen congressional abuse of power. It would also open the gates for this practice to expand, such that Congress routinely leaks the taxes of political enemies: a presidential candidate of the other party, an opposition leader in Congress, a pesky columnist, pastor, or cable news host. This is a path the nation cannot afford to go down.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“The logic that supports the subpoena undercuts House Democratic efforts to impeach Mr. Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. In both cases, the use of official power to get dirt on a political rival is consistent with a broader, and valid, official purpose…

“Democrats say Mr. Trump’s justification [for investigating Biden] is pretextual. But they’ve also taken the position that one may not look behind a valid official purpose, even in the face of strong evidence of political motivation. That going after Mr. Biden was about Ukrainian corruption is no less plausible than that pursuing Mr. Trump’s tax returns was about legislation.”
Daniel Huff, Wall Street Journal

Regarding the New York case, “The New York State government, controlled by Democrats, is clearly politicizing its law and enforcement to target Trump. Earlier this year, in a transparent effort to discourage the president from pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on federal convictions, the same Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicted Manafort — even though the New York State Constitution would give Manafort double-jeopardy protection...

“Moreover, a few months back, the state passed a law specifically designed to make it easier for Congress to seek the president’s state tax returns. We ought to find this disturbing, notwithstanding that Trump made himself a target by (a) reneging on a commitment to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign; and (b) the way the hush-money payments were timed and structured.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

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

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

On the bright side...

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