A couple of weeks ago, when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried her hand at political punditry, the progressive jurist raised a variety of concerns about Donald Trump. Among them was an issue that had largely faded from the debate.
“How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns?” Ginsburg asked. “The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.”
For what it’s worth, I think the media did a decent job of pressing the issue for quite a while, but as the campaign progresses, and new issues arise, there are only so many times we can run the “Trump Still Hiding His Tax Returns” story. Yes, every major-party nominee has released his or her tax documents for decades, and yes, Trump is breaking new ground with his unexplained secrecy, but it can’t dominate coverage every day.
But when circumstances warrant a return to an old story, the coverage can change. The Atlantic’s James Fallows noted today, for example, that Russia’s alleged intervention in the U.S. presidential election has changed the calculus.
These new developments underscore the importance of an old, familiar point: now, more than ever, Donald Trump must release his tax returns. To put it differently, the press should no longer “normalize” his stonewalling on this issue. [emphasis in the original]As another veteran figure in the defense world and political affairs wrote to me this morning: “In normal times, this [the Russian hacking] would be the lead on all network news. But these are not normal times. I am having trouble getting through to some people that this is a real thing. The very people who always say “follow the money” with regard to the Pentagon [or other boondoggle bureaucracies] don’t see that (a) Trump has been kept afloat for about 15 years by Russian oligarchs; and (b) Russia has a powerful incentive to see a US president who will end economic sanctions.
To be sure, even if these allegations about Russia trying to boost Trump’s candidacy didn’t exist, Trump would still have a responsibility to honor campaign norms. Indeed, the Russian story isn’t the only controversy that Trump’s tax returns can help resolve.
But either way, the stakes have changed. Trump’s excuses in defense of secrecy have never made any sense, and the need for disclosure is now more acute.
And while Trump ignores the calls, the theories explaining his secrecy are becoming more ominous.
Fox News contributor George Will says GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will not release his tax returns because they may show “he is deeply involved in dealing with Russia oligarchs.” […]“Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns – because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, it’s probably the reasonable surmise.”
Now, in fairness to Trump, George Will offered no proof that Trump is trying to hide his financial connections to Russian oligarchs. That said, Trump’s business dealings in Russia certainly exist and have been the subject of scrutiny.
Trump can make questions like these go away quickly by doing what every presidential candidate in the post-Watergate era has done. For reasons the Republican candidate hasn’t explained, he continues to stick to secrecy.