One of the parts of Donald Trump’s interview with George Stephanopoulos that’s generated some chatter was the president’s willingness to scold acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for coughing during part of the interview. It was, to be sure, odd: Trump went on and on about how unacceptable he considered Mulvaney’s coughing, before asking for another take.
But what I found even more notable was what the president was saying before he interrupted the interview to chastise his aide.
TRUMP: When you will see my financial statement, at some point I assume it’s going to be released, you’ll be very impressed by the job I’ve done. Much, much bigger, much, much better than anybody.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which financial statement?
TRUMP: Uh, they’re after my financial statement. The Senate, they’d like to get my financial statement. At some point I hope they get it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re going to turn it over?
TRUMP: No, at some point I might, but at some point, I hope they get it because it’s a fantastic financial statement. It’s a fantastic financial statement.
At that point, the president interrupted the interview, said, “Let’s do that over,” and admonished Mulvaney.
When they returned, the ABC News anchor reminded Trump that it’s up to him when people see the materials. “No, it’s not up to me,” the Republican responded. “It’s up to lawyers, it’s up to everything else. But they’re asking for things that they should never be asking for, that they’ve never asked another president for.” Trump added that people are trying to “demean” him.
The president’s response to coughing was weird, but his comments about his “financial statement” weren’t any better – because it wasn’t at all clear what in the world he was referring to.
If he was talking about the annual financial disclosure statements that presidents are already required to make, then the rhetoric didn’t make any sense: there’d be no reason for Trump to assume the materials would be disclosed “at some point” because the disclosure statements are already released as a matter of course.
For that matter, he specifically mentioned that the Senate would “like to get my financial statement,” but again, if he was talking about the annual financial disclosure, the Senate – like everyone else – already has it.
The more likely explanation was that he was referring to his still-hidden tax returns, but the rhetoric is only slightly less curious if that’s what he meant. Trump “hopes” people see the materials he’s kept secret? His tax returns would “demean” him? No other president has been asked for his tax returns? Maybe he confused the Senate and the House?
It was all quite odd, even for Trump.
Regardless, the president received some support late Friday from his Justice Department on this issue. The Office of Legal Counsel issued a 33-page memo rejecting Congress’ demand for Trump’s tax returns, despite the black-letter law on the matter. The memo insisted the administration could ignore the instructions from House Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) because, as the OLC’s Steven Engel argued, the Democrat’s demand was political.
That makes about as much sense as what Trump told Stephanopoulos, but it’s where we find ourselves.