It’s quite likely that, in the near future, the House Democratic majority will take steps to obtain Donald Trump’s long-hidden tax returns. Politico reports today that administration officials are “gearing up” to ensure the materials are kept under wraps.
Trump’s Treasury Department is readying plans to drag the expected Democratic request for Trump’s past tax filings, which he has closely guarded, into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments.
At the same time, officials intend to publicly cast the request as a nakedly partisan exercise. The two-pronged scheme was developed by a handful of top political appointees and lawyers inside the department – with the ultimate goal of keeping the president’s past returns private, according to four people familiar with the administration’s approach.
Evidently, the plan rests on a specific argument: if lawmakers obtain the tax materials, they’re likely to leak the documents so that the American public can see them. With this in mind, administration officials intend to argue that Democrats’ untrustworthiness is a worthy justification for ongoing secrecy.
It raises the prospect of a protracted fight, including litigation, that could last months – possibly stretching into the heart of next year’s presidential campaign – all over materials every other president since Watergate has gladly shared with the public in the interests of transparency.
It’s amazing just how much effort Team Trump has invested into keeping those tax returns secret.
At a certain level, the White House’s anxieties are eased, at least a little, by the fact that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) doesn’t seem especially interested in this issue, and to the irritation of progressive activists, he isn’t rushing to instigate a confrontation.
But the confrontation is nevertheless inevitable. In fact, some lawmakers are taking steps to help keep the fight on the front burner. The Washington Post reported last week:
A House panel is set to examine proposals that would force the public disclosure of presidential and vice-presidential tax returns, a direct challenge from Democrats to President Trump’s norm-breaking decision not to reveal his own.
The hearing of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight is scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 7, two days after Trump visits Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), did not provide details about the hearing Thursday beyond its title, “Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns,” and a list of witnesses.
Watch this space.