House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), exercising his authority under the law, recently told the Treasury Department to turn over Donald Trump’s tax returns by April 10.
On April 10, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and his team were reviewing the request and weighing the “serious issues” surrounding compliance with the law. Chairman Neal, unimpressed, set a new deadline: close of business, April 23.
The White House indicated this morning that the president his team will ignore this deadline, too. Subpoenas and litigation will soon follow.
In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal raised an interesting point today, pointing to a related angle: whatever happened to Vice President Mike Pence’s tax returns? Evidently, they’re hidden from the public, too.
It is just as much of a break from his predecessors: Going back to Walter Mondale in the 1970s, all have disclosed their returns. Mr. Pence released 10 years of returns through 2015 during the presidential campaign.
Mr. Pence’s office has said that he is following Mr. Trump’s lead by refusing to release returns until audits are finished and has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the status of the audits.
At face value, this makes sense. If the vice president disclosed his tax returns to the public, while the president refused, it’d create a dynamic that the White House would struggle to explain. It’s challenging enough for Team Trump to come up with some kind of coherent rationale to defend the president’s secrecy – it’s been a few years, and the talking points still don’t make sense – and having Pence adopt his own superior standard for transparency would make a bad situation worse.
But the fact that there’s presidential-vice-presidential uniformity doesn’t make this any more defensible.
Before taking office, Pence saw no need for secrecy surrounding his tax materials, so he did what others in his position have done for decades: he disclosed his returns to the public. It’s likely the vice president would continue to do so, even now, as Pence’s modern predecessors have done.
But he can’t, or more accurately, won’t – because the vice president choosing to do the right thing would necessarily shine a light on the fact that the president is doing the wrong thing.
The result is just kind of sad. As my colleague Jen Mulreany joked this morning, watching Pence hide his tax returns just because Trump hides his is a bit like watching Pence move his water bottle at a FEMA meeting because he saw the president do it first.