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Sanders: Congress not 'smart enough' to understand Trump's tax returns

Donald Trump and his team have had four years to come up with a compelling excuse to justify his secrecy on tax returns. It's still not going well.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

To date, neither Donald Trump nor anyone on his team has ever come up with a coherent explanation for why his tax returns must be kept hidden from the public. After facing the question repeatedly for years, it's tempting to think they'd have come up with something compelling by now, but so far, we've heard little but unpersuasive evasiveness.

More recently, the president and his team have also failed to explain why the administration must also be allowed to ignore federal law in this area.

Yesterday, the White House's chief spokesperson decided to rationalize Trump's insistence on secrecy by questioning the intellect of lawmakers seeking the documents.

Speaking with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she wouldn't "trust" members of Congress to fully grasp the contents of the president's returns."And frankly, Chris, I don't think Congress, particularly this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume President Trump's taxes will be," Sanders said. "My guess is most of them don't do their own taxes, and I certainly don't trust them to look through the decades of success the president's had and determine anything."

Putting aside how unfortunate it is to hear this president and his team question anyone's intellectual prowess, it's worth pausing to appreciate the evolution of the argument. After all, Trump's original position was that he'd be happy to share his tax returns. In time, for reasons that have never fully been explained, this posture was abandoned and replaced with a series of odd claims about audits, public attitudes, and the administration's perceived limits of congressional authority.

Team Trump has now been reduced to arguing that lawmakers aren't smart enough to understand the president's tax returns, which might very well be the most foolish defense yet, since (a) Congress can always consult with experts; (b) more than a few accountants have already been elected; and (c) Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) is already in Congress.

For their part, House Democrats have already tried to exercise their legal authority, formally demanding Trump's tax materials from the IRS. The administration missed lawmakers' deadline, and last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he's still weighing how -- and whether -- to follow the law.

On Friday afternoon, Dems set a new deadline.

House Democrats have given the Internal Revenue Service a new deadline to hand over President Donald Trump's tax returns days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department would miss the original deadline of April 10.In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig sent Saturday by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Democrats gave a second and final deadline of April 23 for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns. The lawmakers could go to court to seek the returns if the IRS does not turn them over."To date, the IRS has failed to provide the requested return and return information despite an unambiguous legal obligation to do so ... Please know that, if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request," Neal wrote in the letter.

And what happens if/when the administration ignores this new deadline? Presumably, Neal would pursue subpoenas and/or some kind of court fight.

All of this comes against a backdrop in which House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) is moving forward with plans to issue a subpoena to Mazars USA, Trump's accounting firm, for access to the president's materials. Of particular interest, the Maryland Democrat also wants Mazars to disclose communications "related to potential concerns that records, documents, explanations or other information provided by Donald Trump or other individuals from the Trump Organization were incomplete, inaccurate or otherwise unsatisfactory."

In other words, Cummings wants to know if the accounting firm ever received false information from Trump. That subpoena should go out today.