The Constitution was written with the goal of limiting the power of the Presidency, not unlimiting it
Here’s a little definition of the origin of the word “public” going back to the 14th Century, and before that to the Roman “publicus”:
“Open to general observation”
You know what that also would be a good definition for? “Transparency”.
We’ve been out of the country going on two weeks now, and we think that’s given us some perspective. Not new perspective, but normal perspective that we’d sadly started to lose. (Or maybe things have gotten even that much worse since we left.)
So what we’ve got to say today is simple, and it’s been said before, but is often forgotten in the whirlwind of a madhouse White House and a population that’s described very commonly now as irreparably split.
There’s nothing to be split about when it comes to the responsibility of public servants. That includes the President, who is supposed to set an example, and if he doesn’t, Congress is well within their rights to compel him to.
Democrats and Republicans used to and still should agree on certain things. Trump coming in and stomping around shouldn’t change all that, and certainly shouldn’t change the foundation on which the country is built. Regardless if you agree with his policies. Regardless if you tend to characterize his moves as failures or successes.
If you are in public office, your first responsibility is to the public. Could that mean protecting the public from an “invading army of illegal aliens” if that’s what you and they believe? Sure. But it also means behaving and held to account as a public figure, which the President is, whether he wants to be or not.
So no one, especially not the Justice Department, should be arguing that the Treasury Department need not comply with the House’s request for Trump’s tax returns even though, by law, they have the right.
Here’s a refresher of exactly what the law says (Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S. Code § 6103):
“Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request…”
Even if there is no “legislative purpose” (we’re not saying there’s not, but even) and even if the sole purpose is to embarrass Trump. The DOJ begins its 33 page opion by stating:
“The text of section 6103…does not require the [House Ways and Means] Committee to state any purpose for its request.”
But then it goes on:
“Under the facts and circumstances, the Secretary of the Treasury reasonably and correctly concluded that the Committee’s asserted interest…was pretextual, and that its true aim was to make the President’s tax returns public, which is not a legitimate legislative purpose.”
To which we ask, even if that is the case, why not? Why not lean toward transparency instead of making up excuses to support concealment instead?
Trump is a public figure, and the most important public figure in the country. Should he not want to comply with Congress, he has a very good remedy: he can decide not to be President. He can go back to private business, and then he doesn’t have to show his tax returns to anyone.
Many people in government, from bureaucrats, to elected officials, have to reveal all kinds of things about themselves precisely because they are working in the interest of the public trust. This should start from the top down, not apply to virtually everyone except the person sitting at the top.
Furthermore, what prevents any of those public servants or anybody else now, when requested or subpoenaed to testify before Congress to say they won’t because they hold a personal belief the questions are just being asked to embarrass the President?
And if the Justice Department is going to argue Trump doesn’t have to release his tax returns because (despite what the law we quoted above says) Congress is making up a reason for wanting them that’s not really true, they can’t then simultaneously argue that it doesn’t matter whether the White House is making up a reason that’s not true for putting a citizenship question on the 2020 census, they just can anyway.
In both cases, the “new” DOJ is arguing (and Trump is counting on the “new” Supreme Court to agree) that concealment is more important than transparency. And that’s all that’s important about this. Putting a premium on protecting the executive, and if they’re successful, decimating the power of the public, and the Constitution.