Interview with Chairman Schiff. TRANSCRIPT: 4/3/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And do you know how we know you live in western Massachusetts?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Hmm?
O`DONNELL: It`s not your California accent, which is actually no accent at
all, is that you call him Richie Neal. You call the chairman of the Ways
and Means Committee, House of Representatives, Richie Neal, because he is
the local congressman up there in Massachusetts.
MADDOW: He is my congressman, he is. He has a very large congressional
district in a fairly small state because there aren`t that many of us in
western Massachusetts. He is Richard E. Neal, but forever, I thought he
was just Richie Neal because that`s what everybody calls him.
O`DONNELL: And that`s the way I`ve known him for many years, decades I
guess at this point. And he is a meticulous chairman. There was a certain
amount of impatience, especially among the freshman Democrats.
But what is Chairman Neal doing? He has the power to request these –
demand these tax returns and he hadn`t done it yet. But you can see I
think in that letter tonight, Rachel, that it is just a meticulously
crafted piece. He has found exactly what tax returns and tax return
information he wants, especially beyond the personal returns from the Trump
And that surely took quite a while to figure out exactly which Trump
businesses to go after.
MADDOW: And what do you make, Lawrence, of the fact – especially because
you`ve known him for a long time – what do you make of the fact that he`s
not doing any interviews at all about this strategy or about this request
he`s now made of the IRS? I mean, not only did he not do any interviews
leading up to it, but he`s not doing any interviews tonight. He`s not
appearing anywhere on TV, doesn`t appear to be doing any print interviews,
O`DONNELL: He is the Robert Mueller of House chairman. I think he
understands the position he`s in, I think he understands that he has a
unique power. He has a superpower. He has a power that no other chairman
in the House has.
O`DONNELL: So I think he`s respecting his power, and I think he`s treating
it as something that shouldn`t be – shouldn`t appear to be a way that he`s
trying to get attention to himself. What is very, very clear is that the
chairman of the ways and means committee is not guilty of trying to get
attention for himself this year.
MADDOW: No, exactly. And I would follow him around with a microphone at
home or abroad, but we know he`s not talking. It`s a fascinating day in
the news, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: It certainly is. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend.
O`DONNELL: Well, we have two senior members of Congress joining us tonight
after a day of cascading breaking news on top of breaking news, as you just
heard Rachel described, from the president`s tax returns to the Mueller
Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee,
will be our first guest tonight.
Also tonight, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, he is the most-senior member of
the House Ways and Means Committee who is available to do an interview
tonight about the committee chairman`s decision to demand copies of Donald
Trump`s tax returns from the IRS.
The word “powerful” almost always comes before the word chairman in
Congress, but the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the
chairman of the Senate Finance Committee each have a superpower that no
other chairmen have as leaders of the tax-writing committees. They have
the unique power to demand any tax return they want to see from the IRS.
And Chairman Richard Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee is now
exercising that unique power. He has demanded, in writing, President
Trump`s personal and business tax returns for the last six years, and this
may be the single biggest development yet in the congressional
investigations of the president this year. And it is also a really
important moment in the presidential campaign.
And that`s what I`m going to talk about at the end of this hour, what the
demand for the Trump tax returns means for the Democratic presidential
candidates and how only a few of them were actually ready for this to
happen today. And the way for a candidate to have been ready for this was
to have released the candidates` own tax returns already and most – most
of the Democratic candidates for president have not done that yet. Maybe
we shouldn`t be surprised that the women have done a much, much better job
than the men on this issue, the women candidates. And it tells us a lot
about who is really ready for this presidential campaign.
And I mean ready today. Ready today to deal with whatever was going to
happen today. If you`re a presidential candidate and you haven`t already
released 10 years of your own tax returns, then you were not ready for what
happens today. We will get to that at the end of this hour, the effect of
the Trump`s tax returns on the presidential campaign.
But, first, in tonight`s breaking news, “The New York Times” is reporting
that some of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller`s investigators believe that
Attorney General William Barr misrepresented the Mueller report in the
letter the attorney general wrote to Congress that summarized what the
attorney general says are the main findings of the Mueller report.
“The New York Times” put it this way: Some of Robert S. Mueller`s
investigators have told associates that Attorney General William Barr
failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they
were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.
Now, many of us reading the attorney general`s letter inferred that the
findings of the Mueller report were probably more troubling for the
president. But “The Times” has new details tonight about the Mueller
report in their story, details we`ve never known before. Quote: The
special counsel`s investigators had already written multiple summaries of
the report and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included
more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24th
laying out their main conclusions.
Tonight`s report on “The New York Times” adds to the pressure for the full
release of the Mueller report. And this morning, the House Judiciary
Committee voted to authorize the committee`s chairman, Jerry Nadler, to use
subpoena power to obtain the full, unredacted Mueller report.
Here`s Chairman Nadler this morning in that Judiciary Committee meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The Constitution
charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged
official misconduct. That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for
ourselves, not the attorney general`s summary, not the substantially
redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.
The attorney general proposes to redact four categories of information from
the Mueller report. Congress is entitled to all of the evidence. This
isn`t just my opinion. It is also a matter of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Chairman Nadler has now been empowered a party line vote in the
committee to issue a subpoena for the full Mueller report when and if
Chairman Nadler decides that that is necessary.
Chairman Nadler was asked if there was any room for compromise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you willing to negotiate any middle ground in terms of
redactions of the –
REPORTER: You`re not?
NADLER: No. The committee must see everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: This morning on this network, Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman
of the House Intelligence Committee, said he expects Robert Mueller to have
to testify to Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to call Bob Mueller to testify?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think
it`s inevitable bob Mueller is going to have to testify before Congress. I
would think that he will probably be needed before more than one committee.
(EN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Earlier today, “The New York Times” reported the House
Intelligence Committee has asked one of the top contractors to President
Trump`s inaugural to provide it with documents about the event, a person
familiar with the situation said on Wednesday, opening up a new line of
inquiry into the planning and financing of the ceremonies. The committee
asked for documents from an interview with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff who
had been a close friend of the first lady, Melania Trump, and who had
helped plan the celebrations and parties around the inaugural, the person
And leading off our discussion tonight is the chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Chairman Schiff, thank you very much for joining us on this important
night. I know this is not an easy night to make time for this.
Can we work backwards from what I just referred to in the “New York Times”
O`DONNELL: – about your committee`s interest in the Trump inaugural
committee? What can you tell us about that?
SCHIFF: Again, our interest is really from a counter-intelligence point of
view, and that is we`re foreign parties trying to use the inauguration
committee as a way of exerting influence over the incoming administration.
We know already that foreign contributions which are prohibited were
funneled in part to this committee through a straw man. Sam Patton has
already pled guilty to an offense related to that, a $50,000 contribution
to buy tickets to the inauguration on behalf of a Russian and a Ukrainian.
And so, we`re deeply interested to know whether this committee, which
raised unprecedented sums, also received that money or any of that money
from foreign sources, trying to exert influence.
So, that`s our predominant interests. There are other committees like the
Oversight Committee, I think, that may be interested in other issues such
as whether the Trump family organization used the inaugural committee to
enrich itself by charging above-market rate for hotel rentals or ballroom
rentals or whatnot during the inauguration, but our interest is the
O`DONNELL: And let me take you to the breaking news report of the night in
the “New York Times” which seems to be saying that there are at least some
members of the Mueller team who are telling associates that they believe
that Attorney General Barr and what he has written to Congress about the
report has, in effect, misrepresented the weight of the report.
SCHIFF: Well, it`s been my assumption, and we won`t know until we get it
and I find it remarkable here we are almost two weeks out and Barr is still
keeping this report buried. It`s been my assumption that a 400-page report
has an executive summary already. So, of course, it begged the question
why did Barr feel the need to release his own summary?
Now, this is obviously someone who was hired for the purpose of squelching
an obstruction of justice that upset the president. But nonetheless, why
didn`t he release a summary produced by Bob Mueller himself, instead of
trying to shape it in his own words?
So, I don`t know what to make of “The New York Times” report. It is
concerning. The best remedy, of course, is transparency. Let the American
people see all of it, and ultimately, that`s what`s going to happen. We`re
going to fight this in any way we can, in any way we need to, to make sure
that the American people get to see the product of Bob Mueller`s work
without the filter of Mr. Trump`s hand-picked attorney general.
O`DONNELL: Will your committee – you also have an interest in seeing the
full Mueller report within your committee. Will your committee also
subpoena the report, if necessary?
SCHIFF: Well, there are two investigations that were going on
simultaneously, the counterintelligence investigation, which is how this
all began. That is an investigation into whether the president or people
around him were witting or unwitting agents of Russian influence, and then
the criminal investigation. It looks like the Mueller report is
predominantly focused on the criminal investigation. Here is who we
charged, here is who we didn`t charge and here`s why.
It may not discuss the counterintelligence findings. If it doesn`t, of
course, that`s what we`re going to be pursuing in the Intelligence
Committee, and we`ll use whatever means necessary. Very analogous to
Chairman Neal who is a statutory power to get the tax returns. We have a
statutory power in the Intelligence Committee to gain access to any
significant counterintelligence activity and findings, and we`re going to
expect the intelligence community and the FBI to live up to that statutory
O`DONNELL: Let me ask you something about Chairman Neal that Rachel asked
me about, and that is why has the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee
remained so publicly quiet and like yourself not doing any interviews about
any of the work he`s doing in this committee, particularly this work about
trying to obtain the president`s tax returns? Have you had any
conversation with Chairman Neal about why he`s avoiding interview
situations about this?
SCHIFF: You know, I certainly had conversations with Chairman Neal on the
subject of the tax returns, but I`m not going to go into those
conversations. I haven`t talked with him about how public facing he wants
But I will tell you this looking at the chairman`s letter and knowing
something about the chairman. This letter, this request, is very carefully
written. It presents the strongest possible grounds to obtain those
returns, and I think he wants to rely on what that letter says, because he
knows that`s on the strongest legal footing. And he knows the president is
likely to fight this tooth and nail.
But this leaves no wiggle room, no discretion for the IRS. They`re going
to have to comply. It is squarely within the chairman`s authority to ask
for these returns, and I think that out of abundance of caution and mindful
that the president will seek to litigate this, the chairman is probably
working conservatively with the advice of the House general counsel to
maximize our chances of success.
O`DONNELL: Do you want to see the president – these same tax returns in
SCHIFF: You know, I`m deeply concerned with, you know, what the tax
returns might shed light on in terms of any conflict of interest,
particularly vis-a-vis foreign parties. So if the president has
investments abroad that are tilting U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia or
against other countries or towards Turkey because he`s got a Moscow Trump
Tower there, or any other elicit or financial purpose, then that is a
counter-intelligence concern for our committee.
But that is a different issue than the one that Chairman Neal is raising,
and I will defer to Chairman Neal on the basis he is seeking the returns,
but, of course, that is the concern that we have in our committee.
O`DONNELL: And Chairman Neal has specified in his public statement,
written statement about this that he has no intention of sharing the tax
returns with any other committees. But there is, within the law, a House
process for that if the House passed a resolution authorizing your
committee to obtain the tax returns, which is to say, authorizing you. You
then could see these tax returns.
Is that something you would anticipate asking Speaker Pelosi to put
resolutions you would be asking her to pass so you could get a look at
these tax returns?
SCHIFF: You know, I`m going to defer to Chairman Neal on that question
because I think he`s in the best position to be able to respond to what
latitude he may have in terms of release of the tax returns beyond his
committee. I`ll defer to him on that. I can only speak for the interests
of my committee, which is to make sure that U.S. policy is not driven by
some elicit foreign purpose.
Now, I do want to say also that what Chairman Neal is doing is helping to
reinforce what had been an enviable norm for decades, and that is that
presidential candidates release their returns so the American people can
understand whether there are conflicts of interest, and I think the
American people have every right to know, for example, did the president
push certain provisions for real estate developers in the tax cut bill
because it would earn him tens of millions of dollars on his taxes? Or any
other issue that is pertinent to the American people`s interest in a
transparent government and knowing that the president is working for them
and not on behalf of his own narrow financial interest.
O`DONNELL: And, Chairman, we now have a whistleblower telling us about the
way the security clearance process was overruled within the Trump White
House, and apparently now, specifically to the benefit of Jared Kushner.
What`s your reaction to those reports?
SCHIFF: Well, we are supporting the work that Chairman Cummings is doing
to try to get to the bottom of this and find out why there was so many
aberrations here, why there was so many overrulings of the professionals in
terms of the security clearance process. We also have our own deep
interest in this. Jared Kushner has probably the broadest possible
portfolio of anyone connected to the administration. He`s supposed to
develop a Mideast peace plan. He`s got jurisdiction over criminal justice
reform and god knows what else.
And he`s also entered this administration with buildings that were deeply
in debt, like that 666 property. And if he was seeking foreign financing,
if foreign parties or sovereign wealth funds or other countries felt like
he could be levered because of his financial indebtedness or other reasons,
that`s of deep concern to us. So, if those were the considerations that
went into the denial or the attempt to deny him a security clearance, then
they were overruled because of nepotistic interests of the president, then
we want to know about that in the Intelligence Committee.
O`DONNELL: Chairman, we also saw this security breach of sorts, I`m not
sure how you would describe it, this weekend with the arrest in Florida of
someone who gets into the president`s – basically his weekend home which
he also runs as a business. And she gets in there using two Chinese
passports as her identification. It turns out the Secret Service, on
second thought, ends up arresting her because they believed she was there
with malicious intent and, in fact, was in possession of malicious software
and some of the computer hardware that she had with her.
Your reaction to that and what we know about it so far?
SCHIFF: Well, a couple reactions. First is a concern over the security
protocols that she got as far as she did. Second is the concern over the
number of cell phones over the thumb drive. We don`t know what kind of
malware this is. Was there an intention to place the malware in a system
But, frankly, the far brother concern because this person looks like they
were an amateur for whatever reason. The broader concern, though, is she
was a guest or she was somebody attempting to pose as a guest. People can
buy a membership. They`re eager to sell memberships at Mar-a-Lago which
means that if a foreign intelligence service did want to penetrate, the far
better way to do it would be to buy a membership and have a right to be
That compound, that country club, Mar-a-Lago, what the president calls his
southern White House, second only to the White House itself, is going to be
an intelligence target for every foreign intelligence agency worth their
salt. So we know that those agencies are going to be deeply interested in
Mar-a-Lago, and the fact that you can buy your way in and avoid what
happened to this woman is of paramount concern. But even as someone not on
a guest list, able to get as far as they did, waves a lot of red flags.
O`DONNELL: Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us
tonight with your invaluable expertise about this. We really appreciate
SCHIFF: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
Well, there is no way up. Donald Trump has finally been cornered on his
tax returns because “shall” means “shall.” When people who write laws with
the word “shall”, that means they are leaving no wiggle room. Everyone in
Congress knows that. I knew that when I was a staff on the Senate Finance
And that`s what the law says about the unique power that the chairmen of
the congressional tax-writing committees have the power to demand to see
any tax returns they want to see. The law says if the chairman of any of
those committees requests a tax return or any information about a tax
return, then the secretary of the treasury has no choice but to order the
IRS to turn over that tax return.
Here`s what the law actually says. The secretary shall furnish such
committee with any return or return information specified in such request.
And so, tonight at 6:00 p.m., Chairman Richard Neal of the House Ways and
Means Committee sent this letter demanding six years of President Trump`s
personal tax returns and his business tax returns and all information about
those tax returns in possession of the IRS, including whether any of those
tax returns have been audited, something the president has always claimed
as his reason for not releasing his tax returns. Chairman Richard Neal and
his staff have been working for months on this letter to make sure they
were asking for exactly what they need to get a full picture of Donald
Trump`s tax compliance and to make sure they were following the letter of
the law in making this request.
Every member of the House Ways and Means Committee knew that at some point,
this day was coming. And so our next guest, senior member of the
committee, Lloyd Doggett, asked the treasury secretary about this last
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: Have you
received any instruction or guidance of any kind about how to handle
congressional requests for President Trump`s tax returns?
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Based upon the request, we`ll examine
it and we will follow the law. We will protect the president as we would
protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, member of the House Ways and Means Committee,
Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas. Congressman Doggett is the senior-most
member of the committee who is available for interviews tonight.
And, Congressman, I want you to look back at the exchange we just showed
with the treasury secretary and reflect back on what you think his answer
means now that Chairman Neal has sent the letter.
DOGGETT: Well, Lawrence, thank you. Finally, after two years, six motions
that I made that the Republicans covered up for Trump, and now three months
into the session, we have the beginning of the beginning. I think what the
treasury secretary was saying in a bit of double talk, mumbo-jumbo was the
emphasis on the word “protect.” The emphasis should be on the word “shall”
and performing his ministerial duty to provide these returns as required by
a near 100-year-old statute of which you`re very permanently familiar and
you`ve described it so well tonight.
The secretary, it would appear, and President Trump tonight in his initial
comments, he obviously continues to think he`s above the law here as
everywhere else, and if he chooses to obstruct the secretary and the IRS
from performing their ministerial duty, we need to move forward immediately
to seek legal action to get these returns.
O`DONNELL: Congressman, some reports have referred to the law that
controls this as an obscure law. Which I guess it is to most members of
the news media, but for you, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, any
member of the Finance Committee, any member of the staff of those
committees knows this power exists. They`ve seen versions of this power
used. When I was in the Senate Finance Committee, service not actually
used for any individual the way it is now, any targeted individual, but
more for a kind of tax return that the committee was interested in seeing
for compliance reasons.
O`DONNELL: How does it work?
We would sometimes ask the IRS just for tax returns that are taking a
certain kind of deduction, and we didn`t even have to see the names on
them, necessarily. But that power has always been there. This is the
first time we`ve seen it used basically in an aggressive way against a
sitting president who is probably very likely to try to resist this in
DOGGETT: Well, this is a president, of course, with a history of
questionable tax activities, a president who deviated from other candidates
in refusing to disclose his returns. You have described the statute and
the practice and the frequent use of Article 6103 very particularly. I
would bring to your attention, and I know you`re familiar with it, the role
that it played with Richard Nixon.
The IRS appraised him in their initial public audit. Then when we actually
got the returns, my predecessors on the committee and yours in finance, it
turned out the IRS did a pretty sorry job and Richard Nixon ended up having
to pay almost half a million dollars in additional taxes in order to
demonstrate that he was not a crook.
O`DONNELL: And one of the things Chairman Neal pointed out in the
informational handout that he gave to the media today along with the letter
was that the Senate Finance Committee on confirmations demands tax returns
for the people who get confirmed to positions of treasury. It`s routine
that the committee staff there and chairman take a look at tax returns for
lower ranking people than the president.
DOGGETT: Absolutely. Secretary Mnuchin, other people within the Treasury
Department and elsewhere, had to produce tax returns. Now, while I differ
with the chairman about the scope as to time and the breadth of the returns
that are requested, I think he`s prepared a very informed request that
there is no legal justification in denying this narrow request in producing
this six years of returns. We`ve really, after all this time, just reached
the beginning of the beginning.
O`DONNELL: And we all remember Donald Trump saying on the campaign trail
that he would release his tax returns, but there was an audit going on. We
have no evidence that there was actually an audit going on. Chairman Neal
is going find out whether there was an audit.
O`DONNELL: It is traditionally, as you know, for the president and the
vice president, to automatically be audited by the IRS, that`s a point the
chairman makes in his letter, and one of the things we want to find out is,
is that audit actually happening? Or has he ordered the IRS not to audit
DOGGETT: Well, that`s exactly right. We need to know about that audit.
We need to know like the Nixon case how well did the IRS do its job? This
is all about confidence in our tax system. It`s essential Americans have
that confidence and part of that is assuring that the most powerful person
in the country is complying with our tax laws.
So, I think we should at least hold him to the Nixon standard. As you
know, earlier this year, we approved the For the People Act here in the
House. We want to require this for ten years and all principal businesses
of everyone who runs for president. It`s not aimed at any person or any
party, it is designed to ensure integrity in our highest office, something
that we`re really short of in the Trump administration.
O`DONNELL: And, Congressman, talk about what it would mean to turn a
tradition, the tradition of voluntary disclosure for presidential
candidates and presidents of their tax returns, turn that into a law.
DOGGETT: Well, I think it confirms the best practice of people of
candidates of both parties. And all we`ve had from President Trump lies
and deceits. We have to get the facts. I know he`s not a fact-based
president or reality-based president, but on this issue, on the
administration of our tax laws, how he`s benefited in changes of the tax
laws and rulings by his administration, how the IRS is performing its
function, those are vital things for the operation of our government and
particularly in the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Doggett, thank you very much for joining us
DOGGETT: Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: I know you`ve been pushing for the issue of the Trump tax
returns longer than anyone else on the committee. You were doing it in
that lonely position of the minority and the Republicans were shutting you
up every time you brought it up.
O`DONNELL: And this is a very important night. We really appreciate you
DOGGETT: Thank you. Thank you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: When we come back later in this hour, I`m going to talk to you
about what Lloyd Doggett was just talking about, which is the Democrats`
attempt to make it a law that all presidential candidates release 10 years
of tax returns, and just how important that is for the presidential
campaign tonight. We`ll tell you who has already complied with that among
the Democratic candidates, and we`ll talk about some of the people who have
not and why it has become more important than ever now that Chairman
Richard Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee has demanded to see
Donald Trump`s tax returns.
Also, when we come back, we`re going to have the experts that we need
tonight that experts on Donald Trump taxes, Donald Trump businesses, the
people who know more about it than anyone else, they will join us to cover
this breaking news about the Trump tax returns and more.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I decide to run for
office, I`ll produce my tax returns, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Big surprise. He wasn`t telling the truth. But now he`s
president of the United States and the chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee, Richard Neal, is exercising his legal right under the law to
demand Donald Trump`s tax returns from the IRS.
Joining us now is Tim O`Brien. He`s the executive editor of “Bloomberg
Opinion”, an MSNBC contributor. He`s author of the book, “Trump Nation”.
Tim O`Brien is one of the very few people who has actually seen a Donald
Trump tax return. He`ll tell us about that in a minute.
And David Cay Johnson was a Pulitzer-Prize winning tax reporter for “The
New York Times”. He`s the founder of Dcreport.org, and he`s the author of
” It`s Even Worse Than You Think, What the Trump Administration is Doing to
America.” And David Corn, Washington Bureau chief from “Mother Jones”, an
MSNBC political analyst. He`s the co-author of the book “Russian
All three of our guests have written books about the Trump businesses, both
foreign and domestic. Tim O`Brien, let me start with you. You`re the one
we`re all jealous of. You had a chance to see a Trump tax return within a
lawsuit where he was suing you.
He was failing in his lawsuit against you, which you won because he didn`t
like that you wrote a book saying he`s not as rich as he says he is, which
I think everyone is not surprised to have discovered. Knowing what you
know about the Trump businesses and how inside you were able to get them
using the discovery and subpoena power within your lawsuit that Donald
Trump made the mistake of starting, what does Donald Trump have to fear in
what Chairman Richie Neal is going to be reading in his tax returns?
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION: You know I think there
is four broad areas he`s worried about. And for him, it`s sort of the
financial equivalent of getting open heart surgery. I think he`d love to
avoid this at any cost.
Two of the things, how authentically philanthropic he is. I think we
already know the answer to that one, but that`s going to come out in his
returns, and how absolutely robust his business is. That`s a thing he`s
always protected. Some of that would come out in returns.
But I think the thing that`s really germane right now that`s in there is
that you would see what kind of income he`s getting overseas and whether or
not the sources of those income compromise his decision making in the White
If he`s getting money from places like China or the Middle East or Russia
that he`s used to finance his business activities, that raises obvious
questions about whether or not he`s making independent calls on all sorts
of issues that involve both governments and banks and active players in all
of those regions. And I think he`s going to do everything he can to keep
that information from coming out.
O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter,
of course, you know what all of us have to fear with people looking at our
tax returns no matter how we file. But you also attained a portion of a
Trump tax return that we all remember that I believe was the two summary
pages of the return.
I`m going to put up on the screen everything that Chairman Neal is asking
for on the business side. He`s asking for eight different entities and all
of both – not just their returns, but all underlying documents the IRS
might have in terms of auditing any of these entities, the Donald J. Trump
Revocable trust, the DJT Holdings LLC, DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC,
DTTM Operations LLC, DTTM Operations Managing Member Corp, LFB Acquisition
Member Corp, LFB Acquisition LLC, Lamington Farm Club LLC, doing business
as Trump National Golf Club-Bedminster.
And David, I`m pretty impressed with Chairman Neal and the staff of the
Ways and Means Committee putting that together. That includes business
entities that I`ve never heard of. So they had to do an awful lot of
research to find out where they believe the real Trump money is.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP: Well, it tells me
that the staff of Ways and Means or the Joint Committee on Taxation has
been doing serious work at what they want to look at.
Now, interestingly they didn`t ask for any gift tax returns if Trump made
gifts to his children and grandchildren. If they did, I`m sure those will
come up. But everything that Tim said is exactly spot on.
And in Addition, once they have the returns, they can look at things like
was he consistent in his application of accounting rules? Did he take
reductions he was not entitled to? Did he misstate the value of assets to
game the tax system? Was there self-dealing among his various entities to
deflate his taxes?
O`DONNELL: And David Corn, you`ve studied Donald Trump`s businesses and
his interests – business interest in Russia. Presumably, that will be an
area where the Ways and Means Committee staff will be trying to find what
secrets might lurk in that area of Donald Trump`s life.
DAVID CORN: Well, as Tim said, there are all sorts of overseas actions
that he`s been engaged with over the years. Many of them we may not even
know about, that may turn up in the tax returns.
There are all sorts of clever ways to use LLCs in offshore companies to
keep that out of your personal returns, which is why it`s very interesting
that they`re going after some of those businesses. Donald Trump, if you
look at his financial disclosure forms, has hundreds of LLCs and we don`t
have all of their paperwork. A lot of them are incorporated in Delaware
and other places.
So his business empire, if it is an empire, his business network would
still need a good team of forensic accountants to go through, but you`ve
got to start with the tax returns. That`s where you have to start, which
is why every candidate has handed out their tax returns, every presidential
candidate since Nixon, and it`s a violation of this norm.
I think it`s so highly symbolic of Trump literally giving a middle finger
to the way we do business in politics in this country. And I think it`s
going to be – could be a fight over whether the Democrats and Congress
actually get their hands on this. We`ll see what happens.
O`DONNELL: And Tim O`Brien, during the campaign when the news media was
asking for tax returns, tax returns, tax returns, there was never any real
specificity in it, and I was always sitting here thinking the personal tax
returns for Donald Trump will be the least interesting tax documents you
can get from him.
You want to see where the money was coming from before it went to the
personal return because all of those business entities that the Ways and
Means Committee has listed, they are all presumably obtaining external
sources of income that they are then delivering to the Trump personal tax
return. And the Trump personal tax return won`t show you where the money
O`BRIEN: That`s correct. That`s correct. And you know, as David pointed
out, he has hundreds, literally hundreds of LLCs.
He parks debt in the LLCs. He uses them to make payments. We saw some of
that with the Stormy Daniels payment.
I also think that the Congress really has to be vigilant about the years
that they request. I think if you go, I think the middle of the 2000s,
2003 to around 2007, a lot of cash came into Trump`s business that wasn`t
coming into the business before, and it wasn`t his inheritance from his
And I think those very germane questions asked about during that period
when he went on a shopping spree when he bought one golf course in Scotland
and funded the development of another one when he was deeply involved with
the development of the Trump Soho Hotel.
There is a lot to wander about, about where the money came from that
financed those things. And that`s going back at this point 14 years or so.
So I would hope that the Congress actually get more aggressive about the
time frame they`re looking at here.
O`DONNELL: And David Cay Johnston, I think tax experts all know why
Chairman Neal picked six years as the window. It`s a very conservative way
of forming the request. It`s generally the amount of time that the IRS
recommends that we all hold on to our tax information because we`re subject
to possible audit and review of returns.
But we aren`t subject to the review of returns by the IRS that are 15 years
old. And so it seems to me that Chairman Neal is trying to stay within
what is the kind of statutory zone that`s considered reasonable in current
JOHNSTON: Well, normally the IRS keeps tax returns for six years. And
when we had paper returns, they then had them pulped. Donald has probably
been filing electronic returns since the period mentioned by Tim. And if
he has, one of the questions that will rise as they down the road is what
additional information do you have?
And you`ve been very careful, Lawrence to point out something I think will
turn out to be very important. The law doesn`t just say tax returns. It
says tax information. That means any books or records they have. It could
mean the tax returns of other people that interact with Donald Trump or
other businesses that interact with Donald Trump, which will tell you
whether the other party and Trump reported a transaction the same way.
O`DONNELL: And David Corn, Chairman Neal in his letter was careful to
phrase this in a way that vacuums out of the IRS basically every document
in the last six years that has anything to do with Donald Trump or these
CORN: And I like to start with something very simple. And I think his
letter does address this. Donald Trump, as you pointed out in the video
clip at the beginning, said he would release his taxes if he ran for
president. Of course, he didn`t. His reason, his excuse, he`s under
Now, I don`t think that really makes a difference, because the tax returns
are filed, the IRS has them. Why would that be a reason not to? But we
Trump has made it a steadfast point to refuse to release even information
indicating he was under audit. And he doesn`t say what years are under
audit. His returns from 10 years ago, eight years ago, seven years ago,
are they still under audit? Five years ago?
We don`t know so I think it would be very interesting just to see to what
degree that excuse has any truth to it whatsoever, if any truth. So there
is a lot here, a lot we can learn.
And I think, as I said a moment ago, that`s really going to not be good for
Donald Trump, so it will lead to this big fight that could take us all the
way up to the next election.
O`DONNELL: And Tim O`Brien, the first round of this has a deadline of
April 10. That`s what Richie Neal put in his letter saying he needs to
have this information by April 10.
It`s easy for the IRS if they`re going to comply. They could comply with
this in a matter of a few days. And so April 10 is a perfectly reasonable
deadline but April 10 might be the beginning of what becomes a legal fight
O`BRIEM: I think there absolutely is going to be a legal fight. They`re
not going to hit that deadline. And it reminds me that we`re in a very
When Nelson Rockefeller was getting approved to be vice president, he sat
for the Congress for two days, and they went through all of his finances,
including his tax returns. And he had vastly more complex holdings than
Donald Trump has.
And he was expected to sit in front of Congress and answer questions about
whether he was financially conflicted. And Trump is just flouting that
It`s a good government issue. This isn`t partisan politics or ideologies,
whether or not the people running the company are or are not financially
O`DONNELL: Well, the law is on the side of Richie Neal and the Ways and
Means Committee. And there`s no law on the side of Donald Trump on this
one. Tim O`Brien, David Corn, David Cay Johnston, the people we needed to
talk to. Thank you very much. Really appreciate you joining us tonight.
And when we come back, every Democrat running for president now needs to be
able to speak up about Donald Trump`s tax returns and Donald Trump`s need
to get out of the way of the IRS complying with Richie Neal`s demand for
those tax returns.
But how many Democrats have actually already released their tax returns in
their campaign for president? A disappointing few. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: The women are doing a better job than the men. That`s never
really surprising, is it? In this case, it`s the women presidential
candidates who are doing a much better job than the men on one very
important point in the presidential campaign, and that point became all the
more important today.
That point, of course, has to do with the release of the presidential
candidate`s tax returns. Now, I got a lot of replies today from my tweet
this when I said why don`t presidential candidates release their tax
returns as quickly as they release their fund raising totals?
Judith said “So true. I don`t really care how much they`ve raised. I want
to know how much they`ve paid.” Randy Murphy said, “Fundraising is
quarterly reporting. Taxes aren`t due until April 15. Most of these
candidates have full-time jobs. Also, consider some slack maybe? No. No
slack on this.”
O`DONNELL: Donald Trump is the only person elected-president since the
1970s who did not release any tax returns. This is a major issue for the
Democratic candidates for president and that issue became an even more
important issue today after the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee
Richard Neal issued his legal demand for the Trump tax returns.
Many of the democratic presidential candidates have been planning their
presidential campaigns since the day after Donald Trump was elected. They
have had time to get ready for this moment.
And most of them have completely failed when it comes to releasing their
tax returns and showing that contrast with Donald Trump. Senator Elizabeth
Warren released 10 years of tax returns last year. Senator Amy Klobuchar
has now released 12 years of tax returns.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has released 12 years of tax returns and she was
the first candidate to release this year`s tax returns. The tax returns
that are due on April 15. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington is the
only man running for president who has released 12 years of tax returns.
Now, I`m willing to cut every candidate some slack to not release this
year`s tax return until April 15 when it is due 12 days from now. That`s
how much slack you get for that one tax return.
But President Obama released his tax return publicly every year that he was
president by the filing deadline of April 15. It was very important to him
to show tax filers that he was going through exactly what they were going
through and to prove it by releasing his return.
Voters should accept no excuse on this. Pete Buttigieg is one of the
newest entries in the campaign field. And so maybe, maybe, it`s
understandable that he hasn`t released his tax returns yet but he should
have anticipated this and he should have been ready to do it. Here`s what
he said about it Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So will you be releasing 10 years of tax returns?
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. It
might take a work for me to dig up the last 10 years but it`s not very
complicated. They`re all pretty thin file so I`ll be prepared to do that.
O`DONNELL: How about your 2018 tax return? Would you be ready to file
that by April 15 this year?
BUTTIGIEG: I will be. I got to admit, I haven`t got around to putting it
in just yet but again, I believe in this kind of transparency and
obviously, I want to practice what I preach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Good. Practice what I preach. So how much time do you want to
give to your candidate to practice what he preaches?
Five weeks ago, Bernie Sanders said he would be releasing his tax returns
soon. That`s the word he used. When you heard him say soon, did you think
that meant more than five weeks?
On Sunday, Bernie Sanders said something strange about releasing his tax
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D): We have it all done and it`s just the question of
dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. Yes, we will, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That only makes sense if Bernie Sanders is talking only about
his current tax return that has to be filed in the next 12 days. But it is
the officials position of the Democratic Party as expressed in the very
first bill in the House of Representatives this year that presidential
candidates should release 10 years of tax returns.
And you are not allowed to go back and dot the Is and cross the Ts in your
tax return from 10 years ago or nine years ago or eight years ago or seven
years ago. Like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders should have had
10 years of tax returns ready to be released last year.
The one tax return we`ve seen from Senator Sanders, his 2014 tax return, is
an incredibly simple, non-controversial tax return. A typical tax return
for a United States senator who is not rich. I would assume that all of
his tax returns are equally simple.
This seems like a completely unnecessary political error being made by the
Sanders campaign. But that very campaign like all of the campaigns has
released exactly how much money they have raised in the first three months
of this year and the campaigns all did that because there is a law that
requires them to do it.
That`s why we need a law requiring them to release their tax returns. The
Sanders campaign raised more money than any other campaign. $18.2 million
in the first quarter of this year. That money came from 525,000
Accounting for that money and filing the FEC report on that money is much
more complicated and time consuming than Bernie Sanders` tax return. It`s
like filing a tax return where you have 525,000 different sources of
income, each of which has to be specified and added into a total income,
which in this case is over $18 million.
The Sanders campaign approached that with the highest degree of competence
and professionalism and honor in accounting for every penny of the $18
million and every person who contributed. And that same presidential
campaign, those campaigns who do that are all capable of doing that. They
should be able to make sure that their candidate`s tax returns are filed on
time and publicly released as quickly as possible.
The campaigns can`t pay do that. But they can make sure the candidates are
getting that done, that the candidate`s accountants are getting that done,
even though there is no law that yet forces them to do that.
On Sunday Bernie Sanders added something about President Trump after he
said that he would – that Bernie Sanders said that he would be releasing
his tax returns after dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDER (I), VERMONT: And by the way, let me challenge
President Trump to do the same. Trust me we do not have investments in
Russia or Saudi Arabia or anyplace else. Yes, we will be releasing them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: But no Democratic candidate for President can challenge
President Trump about releasing his tax returns until that candidate has
released 10 years of his own tax returns. The time for excuses for this is
over. In fact t was over a long time ago. That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.
“THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the