History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Election will have a big impact on disclosure of Trump’s tax returns

Updated

As most of the country probably knows, Donald Trump, ignoring his own promises, in 2016 became the first presidential candidate since Watergate to refuse to publicly release his tax returns. As scandals mounted, the significance of the materials grew, but the president refused to disclose the documents – and congressional Republicans helped with Trump’s secrecy.

Of course, there’s at least a chance that GOP lawmakers won’t have total control of Congress next year. As the Wall Street Journal reports, if Democrats take the reins, they’ll also take a keen interest in the hidden tax filings.

Democrats will seek a firsthand look at President Trump’s tax returns if they take control of the House or Senate after next month’s election, according to the key lawmakers who would gain the authority to get the documents.

Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.), in line to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats win that chamber, said he would get the documents, which the president has declined to release voluntarily.

“Yes,” Mr. Neal said when asked if he would request the returns. “We will do that.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) followed Mr. Neal on Wednesday, saying for the first time that he would request the tax returns if he became Finance Committee chairman in January.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, saw the WSJ report and was not pleased. “This is dangerous,” the GOP congressman wrote this morning on Twitter. “Once Democrats abuse this law to make public [Trump’s] tax returns, what stops them from prying/making public YOUR tax returns for political reasons? Who is next?” The missive included two hashtags: “#AbuseOfPower” and “#EnemiesList.”

This isn’t a good argument.

The debate isn’t just about tradition and transparency, and it’s certainly about more than party politics.

On the contrary, Donald Trump is facing a variety of serious allegations – from the Russia scandal to the Emoluments Clause to tax fraud – each of which are directly related to his personal finances.

Vox’s Matt Yglesias argued yesterday, “As a candidate, Trump promised to release these documents. Now that he’s in office, Congress can make him. But congressional Republicans have steadfastly refused to do so. The American people, however, have a right to know whether or not the president is a crook. And the best way to find out is either for the GOP to change its mind about this or for them to lose their majority so Democrats can do the job for them.”

To hear Kevin Brady tell it, a petty scheme is poised to play out. Democratic partisans, unconcerned with privacy rights, are prepared to pry into an American citizen’s private IRS file. Dems are eager to target Trump today, the argument goes, but they may soon target you tomorrow.

The trouble is, you’re not the president, and you haven’t been accused of serious financial misdeeds.

Yglesias added, “Existing law gives the congressional tax-writing committees the authority to obtain and disclose individuals’ tax returns if there is a legitimate public purpose for doing so.” In Trump’s case, it’s a threshold that’s easily met.

Update: Even Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the retiring chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, conceded in the wake of the New York Times’ revelations that the president “may have to give up those returns.”