Tag Archives: tax returns

An Important Test For The Court

In the three-plus years that Donald Trump has occupied the Oval Office–I deliberately didn’t say “has been President” because in any rational sense, he has not fulfilled that function–longstanding norms of American governance have been turned upside down.

Nowhere have the deviations from expectations been more worrisome than in the courts.

For years, legal scholars have debated whether this or that issue should be settled through litigation or by electoral politics. But I am aware of no credible argument that the courts should be divested of their independence and turned into supine tools of the executive branch.

Our idiot President recently called upon Supreme Court justices who disagree with him to recuse themselves–displaying not only his trademark contempt for constitutional checks and balances, but his embarrassing ignorance of American constitutionalism. That contempt and ignorance would not ordinarily be worthy of note–every day, the insane tweets and verbal diarrhea bear ample witness to both–except for a case that is making its way to the Supreme Court.

A recent article by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly pointed to the disquieting reason for Trump’s unprecedented assault on the Supremes. She begins her analysis by pointing to a truly telling statistic:

Trump administration’s incompetence has led to an abysmal record in the courts. Whereas previous administrations prevailed in the courts 80 percent of the time, this president has failed in over 90 percent of the cases his administration has argued.

As she notes, the Trump administration’s response to these failures has been to appeal directly to the Supreme Court–to ask the Court  to expedite emergency relief from the injunctions of the lower courts. Le Tourneau quotes one legal scholar to the effect that Trump has gone to the Supreme Court with such a request 24 times in less than three years– compared to a total of eight such requests during the 16 years of the George W. Bush and Obama administration’s combined.

Trump has no understanding of the legitimacy concerns raised by such petitions, of course. He actually believes that any criticism of him or his administration should be grounds for recusal, criticism and vilification. And he has other concerns as well.

The reason Trump is on the attack against liberal Supreme Court justices probably has more to do with a case that is being made against Justice Clarence Thomas. As we’ve seen, the president is in the midst of a purge of federal employees who don’t demonstrate enough loyalty to him. Jonathan Swan reported that Ginni Thomas—the wife of Clarence Thomas—has been deeply involved in lobbying on behalf of a purge, providing the administration with lists of who needs to go as well as potential replacements.

In response, there have been calls for Thomas to recuse himself on matters related to Trump and his administration.  Trump’s call for Sotomayor and Ginsberg to recuse themselves is not only a way to further politicize the Supreme Court; it also provides his media enablers with a distraction from the issues surrounding Thomas and the ability to pretend that both sides do it.

All of these issues have prompted Trump’s defensive and unPresidential behavior. But even more significant is a case  that could require him to release his tax returns.

From everything we’ve seen, that is the hill that this president is prepared to defend at all costs. And according to CNN, the latest dissent issued by Sotomayor could indicate that tensions are rising as the justices consider these major cases.

Here, then, is a critical test of the Court’s independence. Will Trump’s appointees behave like the grateful tools he clearly believes they are? Will they demonstrate allegiance to Trump, or to the Constitution?

The answer to that question will tell us whether we retain a system based–however insecurely–on the rule of law.


Taxes, Trump And 2020

In an introduction to his daily newsletter, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt recently commented on the most recent effort to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns, and the continued refusal of Trump and his Treasury Department to provide them.

The most innocent possibility is that he isn’t nearly as wealthy as he has long boasted, and he’s embarrassed by the truth. A less innocent possibility is that he has financial ties that could create political problems for him if those ties became public — for example, ties to Russia or other countries to which his foreign policy has been suspiciously friendly.

The release of the returns would let “Americans decide whether the president is making decisions that benefit his businesses at the expense of American taxpayers,” Aaron Scherb of Common Cause, the government watchdog group, has written in USA Today. “If Trump has significant debt to banks and/or individuals in certain countries, some of which might be adversaries of the United States, we must know because his foreign policy decisions might be compromised.”

Whatever the reason, it is obvious that Trump is hiding something. And it isn’t only his tax situation. We’re also supposed to believe his repeated bragging that he is smart (despite copious evidence to the contrary), and ignore the fact that he has threatened to sue his high school and college if they release his grades.

His stubborn refusal to release his taxes, however, suggests a relatively simple strategy to prevent his earning a second term in office. Bear with me here.

There is a lot wrong with our current electoral system, and one of the “wrongest” is that each state has the authority to administer election contests within that state. That allows for a lot of mischief (if you don’t believe me, look at Georgia’s last, arguably stolen,  gubernatorial contest), but mischief is as mischief does…

States can make  rules governing candidates access to the state’s ballot. Last year, legislation was introduced in some twenty-six states to make disclosure of five years of tax returns a condition of accessing that state’s ballot, but none has yet passed.

There is hope from Washington State, however, as The Stranger pointed out a couple of weeks ago.

On Tuesday evening a bill requiring all presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose the last 5 years of their tax returns in order to appear on Washington state ballots passed the Senate floor. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), passed 28 to 21 along party lines, because of course it did.

If Gov. Inslee ends up signing this bill, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Joe Bernie Sanders Warren Harris would have to show us the money if they want to get a vote from a single Washingtonian.

Twenty-six other states have introduced similar legislation, but so far none have taken. Two years ago, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill that passed through both chambers there.

Over the phone, Sen. Kuderer said she was “optimistic” Inslee would see “the wisdom in this bill” and sign it if it gets to him, making Washington state the first to force candidates to disclose returns to get on the ballot.

“Voters have a right to know what a candidate’s conflict of interests are, they have a right to know their businesses’ ties, their obligations, who they’re beholden to,” Kuderer said. “We’ve come to expect presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns. It’s become a vital piece of information when making a decision for the office,” she added.

Last week, the Illinois legislature also took steps toward passing such a requirement.

If just a couple of states were to require disclosure as a condition of appearing on the ballot of that state, we could assure The Donald’s defeat in 2020. Either he would finally make his returns public–allowing us to see whatever highly damaging information he has been hiding–or he would lose enough votes, both popular and electoral, to deny him a second term.

Because allowing him to remain in office beyond the term we are already suffering through would be very taxing…


Those Tantalizing Tax Returns

As everyone on the planet knows by now, Mitt Romney is not going to release more than one year of his tax returns.

And as every parent on the planet knows, there is nothing–nothing!–that will intensify children’s interest in something like being told they can’t see or do it. And come to think of it, adults have a similar tendency to fixate on what is seemingly out of reach.

In the last few days, we’ve had two examples of this phenomenon: hackers who claim they have obtained copies from PriceWaterhouseCooper have threatened to release the returns if they aren’t paid a ransom; and Larry Flynt (yes, he of Hustler ‘fame’) has offered a million dollars to anyone who will deliver the returns to him.

You’d think they’d get together….Maybe they still will.

These new efforts come on the heels of what may be the biggest political gambling operation outside Intrade–a robust market in rumors about what could possibly be so damaging in those returns. It is intriguing. Romney’s intransigence about his tax returns adds one more element to the shady public persona he has projected. (A Facebook friend recently asked “Is anyone else waiting for Romney to offer a great deal to put you into a 2012 Malibu?”) What can he be hiding that would hurt him more than the secrecy does?

It isn’t only the refusal to release his taxes. As the Presidential campaign goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Romney’s entire strategy was to make the election a referendum on the incumbent. That wasn’t a bad idea; with the economy still sluggish, and many people still very uncomfortable with Mr. Obama’s perceived “otherness,” making the choice all about the President made some sense. (When you add in Mr. Romney’s own wooden demeanor and general lack of warmth and likability, it makes even more sense.)

Making the election about Obama does not relieve the Republicans of the duty to run an actual candidate. But that’s what they’ve done. Even the media–obsessed with the “horse race” and generally oblivious to policy–has complained about the absolute absence of specifics to back up the vague platitudes coming from the Romney-Ryan ticket. The message has been “fire Obama and we’ll do better,” but there has been no explanation of how–no description of the steps Romney would propose to take, or how his administration would differ from either Barack Obama’s or George W. Bush’s.  We are left with “trust me.”

If you are going to center your campaign on a message that essentially says: “Voters, you need to fire the incumbent and replace him with a more trustworthy person who is a better manager,” then at an absolute minimum you at least need to demonstrate that you are that trustworthy, competent person. You can’t also ask us to take your own character and capacity on trust. But that is exactly what Romney is doing by refusing to release his tax returns.

He is asking voters to fire Obama and hire an empty suit.

Whatever is in those tax returns must really be damaging.

Absence of Strategy

Eugene Robinson makes a point that many political junkies are pondering:

Romney has spent the better part of a decade running for president. Did it never occur to him that if he ever won the Republican nomination, surely there would come a time when he was under pressure to release multiple years’ worth of tax returns? Did he think everyone would forget that it was his own father, George Romney, who set the modern standard for financial disclosure? Did he not recall that when he was being considered for the vice presidential nod four years ago, he furnished tax returns spanning more than two decades to the John McCain campaign?

There are two parts to this puzzle. One, of course, is the tantalizing question of what is in those tax returns? The general conclusion at this point is that it must be something really damaging, else why would Romney prefer being criticized for lack of transparency rather than incur whatever criticisms would follow disclosure.

The second part of the puzzle is actually more damaging. As Robinson notes, Romney has been running for President for what seems like forever–surely he and his campaign staff knew he’d be asked to provide tax information that has become a routine and expected part of candidate disclosures. In the decade he’s been running, he surely could have tailored his taxes so as to avoid major issues when they were ultimately made public. This lack of foresight is ultimately more troubling than whatever tax avoidance or other issue might emerge from disclosure of his tax returns.

Among the qualifications for the nation’s highest office, an ability to think strategically–to see the likely long-term consequences of a course of action, and plan accordingly–is vitally important.

If a candidate can’t even think ahead sufficiently to act in his own self-interest, how can we trust him to steer a course for the country?