On the old Ethics Scoreboard, I had a monthly feature called The David Manning Liar Of The Month Award, “honoring” utterly transparent lies from prominent organizations and people that they obviously didn’t expect anyone to believe. The subpoena issued yesterday by Representative Richard E. Neal (D-Mass) to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Charles P. Rettig, the I.R.S. commissioner would get this month’s award if I was still giving it out.
Quick, now: why do Democrats want the President’s tax returns? Is there any doubt whatsoever? Have they been ambiguous about it in the least? They are convinced, because, as we all know, the Orange Man is BAD, that somewhere in his returns is sufficient evidence of serious wrongdoing—that the IRS never noticed nor flagged, mind you, and that occurred before Donald Trump became President—that they can use to concoct a viable impeachment case, or at least use to embarrass and attack him in the coming election.
For a long time the theory was that the returns would provide decisive evidence that the President was involved in an election-stealing plot with Russia, but since that phony premise was thoroughly exploded, Democrats had to find another excuse. The current theory is that since he refused to reveal the returns during the 2016 campaign, he must have something nefarious to hide. This is the totalitarian’s approach to justice, of course. That the Democratic Party and its supporters so easily resort to it ought to give everyone pause.
So we all know why the Democratic House majority is trying to get the President’s returns. The problem is that Donald Trump has the same right of privacy as every other taxpayer. The fact that he broke with recent tradition by not releasing his returns, if Occam’s Razor means anything to you, is best attributed to the fact that no other Presidential candidate of a major party since income taxes were introduced has been an international businessman, with the extraordinary number of transactions and tax maneuvers such status inevitably requires. Pop Quiz: Did H. Ross Perot, when he was running his third party challenge to Bush and Clinton in 1992, release his tax returns?
No, he did not. Hey, that must mean Perot was in bed with the Russians too!
Now, despite the fact that your Trump-Deranged friends, relatives and Facebook Borg members claim that Democrats should be able to force the President to hand over his taxes easy-peasy, that’s just not so, as I have repeatedly said here. Democrats originally took a flyer on a nearly-forgotten provision of the federal tax code that was inspired by the Teapot Dome scandal in Harding’s administration. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin rejected it, as he should have and as I would expect him to. Century-old laws that nobody has tried to use are generally dead-letters that stay on the books until some enterprising lawyer tries it as a Hail Mary pass for a purpose it was never intended for, in a context that the drafters never anticipated. Such laws are almost always kicked by judges into the ash-heap of history where they belong.
It is touching how many Stage 5 Trump haters who know neither history nor law can be so certain that such a law —tax code provision Section 6103, if you want to look it up—mandates that the President release his taxes. I just had an off-site back and forth with an esteemed—but deranged—Ethics Alarms follower who presented the law as a definitive rebuttal to my assertion that the President is not likely to have to turn over his taxes.
Rep .Neal, however, also determined that Section 6103 is a loser. He wrote in a statement,
“After reviewing the options available to me, and upon the advice of counsel, I issued a subpoena today to the secretary of the Treasury and the commissioner of the I.R.S. for six years of personal and business returns,While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material.”
But as I have also tried to explain to the Trump Deranged, Congress can’t just subpoena documents for the fun of it. It must have a legitimate legislative purpose. Now, guess what Neal says is that purpose, knowing that “We hate this guy, he sickens us, our attempt to prove that he stole the election flopped, so now we’re moving the fishing expedition to his taxes” probably won’t work.
It’s this: The Ways and Means Committee wants to investigate “the extent to which the I.R.S. audits and enforces the federal tax laws against a president.”
A President! Not any particular President, A President. This is just a benign, apolitical inquiry to get a better idea of how the IRS operates. not part of a three year, unethical, destructive, divisive partisan attack on our institutions aimed at removing an elected President without the risky inconvenience of an election! Why President Trump would oppose such a transparent and good faith effort at legitimate tax policy oversight is a mystery!
The best strategy the House Democrats could come up with to pursue the latest impeachment plan involves relying on an obvious lie.
I find it difficult to believe that even the most partisan judge will be inclined to let such an unambiguous lie pass, and I even find it hard to believe that Neal and his colleagues believe it either. From a legal ethics perspective, I even think a lawyer making such an obviously false representation to a court would be putting his or her license in jeopardy.