By Jon Dougherty
A stuttering, angry House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled her way through a session with reporters on Friday as she demanded — demanded — that the Justice Department release special counsel Robert Mueller’s “no collusion” report in full and that POTUS Donald Trump hand over his tax returns to political opportunists in the House.
“Show us the Mueller report,” Speaker Pelosi said, pounding the lectern. “Show us the tax returns. And we’re not walking away just because you say ‘no’ the first time around.”
"Show us the Mueller report," Speaker Pelosi says, smacking the lectern for emphasis. "Show us the tax returns. And we're not walking away just because you say 'no' the first time around." https://t.co/Moxjz0493p pic.twitter.com/snmehPFQMM
— ABC News (@ABC) April 4, 2019
First of all — and we’ll say this as long as Democrats play stupid political games while our southwestern border collapses in chaos — the Justice Department is under no legal obligation to provide Congress with jack when it comes to Mueller’s report.
The attorney general has broad release and non-release authority, as well as the responsibility to ensure that sources are protected, that individuals’ privacy is maintained, and that witnesses who spoke to investigators with the expectation that their identities would not be revealed are protected.
No one on Capitol Hill who is being honest and serious expects that elements of the Mueller report won’t be leaked to a “mainstream” media that has long served as the Democratic Party’s propaganda wing. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) would probably be the first to do so; he’s got that reputation, you know.
AG William Barr, who is known as a straight shooter, will deal with that demand. But this business of Congress demanding POTUS’ tax returns has to be dealt with legally and constitutionally because it is a gross violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
As The Hill noted on Friday, POTUS, when asked by reporters if he was prepared to release his returns per a congressional request, said he was currently under audit — which is what he’s said for two years. However:
The IRS has said that audits don’t prevent people from releasing their own tax information, and Democrats are attempting to use a provision in the federal tax code that gives the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees the power to ask for any tax returns and return information and examine them in a closed session.
The statute says that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” the documents, so long as they are reviewed in a closed session. But it’s unclear how quickly the IRS will respond and if they will provide House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) with the documents.
Neal asked the IRS to provide the requested tax returns and related information by Wednesday. Democrats argue that there is no room in the statute for the IRS not to comply and that their request is necessary to conduct oversight of the IRS’s enforcement of tax laws against a president.
Anyone who has spent a month covering Washington politics knows that Democrats have no interest in the president’s returns other than to use them in some way to embarrass him or expose him legally.
But let’s be clear about some things here. Whether the president’s last name is Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, or whomever:
— There is no constitutional requirement for the president to release his tax returns, so all of the Democratic and media noise about the president ‘failing to release’ them is just that, noise
— There is no legal requirement for the president to release his tax returns to the public, and just because ‘all other presidents have done it’ makes no difference whatsoever;
— The IRS is also an enforcement agency; if billionaire Donald Trump had run afoul of the nation’s tax agency in the past, it would have caught up with him already — long before he got two years into his first term.
As for the statute claiming that Congress has an inherent right to see anyone’s tax returns for any reason — and call it “oversight” — there has to be a legal challenge to that at some point, and POTUS’ case is perfect for that.
Whether lawmakers review individual tax returns “in closed session” isn’t the point; the real questions are, does Congress have a right to them in the first place and if so, why, given that the IRS does enforcement, not the Legislative Branch?
And here’s another consideration. The president isn’t ‘just another taxpayer,’ he’s the constitutional head of the Executive Branch, and as such cannot — and should not — be encumbered by witch hunt demands for his personal financial information from political rivals in Congress (from either party).
The ‘provision in federal tax code’ that ‘allows’ Congress to demand the president’s tax returns is a massive invasion of privacy and a huge distraction. This is a case the president needs to fight all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary — not just for himself but for all Americans.
He should instruct Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ignore Neal’s demand and let the lawyers fight it out in federal court.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10