Why The Quest For Trump’s Tax Returns Is Quixotic

Those of you who’ve been waiting in anticipation of the “treat” of the release now that Democrats control Congress, don’t hold your breath.

Still, it’s important Democrats are going after them. When acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says Democrats will “never” see the Trump tax returns they’ve requested the IRS to release, he’s inadvertently underscoring why. It’s very different to decline to release something, than to work against it being released in the most frenzied, defensive way possible.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani:

They’ll be in court for two or three years on those taxes. It’s pure harassment…”

And that’s the whole game here as far as the President is concerned: not so much the “harassment” part as the “two or three years” part. By then the 2020 election will be in the books, and then it won’t matter. So a lot of the reason Trump’s fighting the polite but firm request (pointedly not a subpoena) from Rep. Richard Neal (D) MA, who’s Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is to drag the process out in the courts for as long as possible. Close to the top of his letter, Neal points out the request is “consistent with [the committee’s] authority”. He also set a deadline for today, which pretty obviously won’t be met.

So yes, focus on the fact that Trump’s fighting it tooth-and-nail, but if you’re expecting any juicy details, forget about it for now. (Also, we think you can pretty much ignore the sideshow of whether Treasury and the White House coordinated on how to respond to such a request even before it was made. Of course they did). Trump’s even hired a new set of lawyers just to fight the tax return request.

So what could be in those tax returns anyway? Lots of things. Republican Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley says of Democrats “they want his tax returns to destroy him“, which also implies more than sort of, that could be the result if the returns see the light of day.

And the U.S. tax code is set up to encourage and protect wealthy real estate investors, so there are lots of loopholes that never get closed. Most real estate speculators avail themselves of these advantages, many to a degree other people would see as unfair or even shady. So there’s likely some of that. Perhaps–as came up in one of the debates with Hillary Clinton–and Trump seemed to confirm he didn’t pay any personal income tax. “That makes me smart“, Trump said, without explicitly admitting anything.

At the same time, we also know this President makes strenuous attempts to conceal things most of us might not care about at all. Most notably, anything that shows he’s worth less than he says he is. That info would almost definitely be gleaned from a glance at Trump’s returns. And that alone might be enough for the President to prioritize secrecy above all else.

But there is a privacy issue that we think is at least semi-legit. We’re promised by the IRS they will turn over our tax records to basically no one. We understand the President’s in a different position, and turning them over to a Congressional Committee is law, and is also not supposed to be the same as making them public. But as soon as that info gets into the hands of some eager staffer–on either side–it’ll leak. So even if the law’s on Congress’ side, we think Trump actually has more of a legitimate reason to jam it up than he normally does when he goes against stuff. That doesn’t de-legitimize the question: “why’s he fighting it so hard”?