Op/Ed

Editorial: Trump shows why taxes, power should be closely monitored

ANGELO LYNN

The consternation in Congress about whether to make public six years’ worth of ex-president Donald Trump’s tax information was overly wrought by a Congress, and media pundits, fearful of the truth. 

The reaction among Congressional Republicans — other than just being opposed to anything Democrats propose — is because they fear more embarrassment over their former leader’s financial affairs. Among Democrats, they fear House Republicans may seek retribution in some unforeseen way. National media pundits have for weeks warned that releasing Trump’s tax information would open a Pandora’s box.

Never mind that the reason Democrats have pursued reviewing Trump’s taxes is because the IRS has had an annual mandate to audit the president’s and vice-president’s taxes since 1974. Democrats have been focused on making sure that mandate is followed because it’s good public policy. It’s designed to prevent our nation’s most powerful leaders from falling prey to graft, bribery and foreign influence.

To be clear, the mandate that presidents should provide their taxes for an IRS audit is not law. Rather, it’s a mandate instituted by the Internal Revenue Service in 1974. As the New York Times reports, “after a scandal related to former President Richard M. Nixon’s taxes, the agency under the Carter administration adopted a program that requires the agency to audit such filings every year. Its regulations state that ‘individual tax returns for the president and the vice president are subject to mandatory review.’” For 42 years, no one objected — until Trump.

No such review occurred during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Why? In 2018, the IRS was run by Trump appointee Charles P. Rettig, who had previously written a column published in Forbes in 2016 that had defended Trump’s decision not to release his taxes as a candidate. It’s little wonder Trump picked him to lead the IRS, and that Rettig did not follow through on the IRS mandate to audit Trump’s taxes. In a dictatorial world, laws don’t apply to those at the top.

But in a democracy, they must.

Rettig, who left the post just last month, made the lame excuse that the IRS was “outgunned” by Trump’s tax team and lacked the specialists needed to assess Trump’s taxes. Yet Rettig never asked the House for more resources. Meanwhile, the Trump administration would not allow its own Treasury Department to comply with Congress’s request for the president’s tax information. And a Trump-appointed federal judge, Trevor N. McFadden, would delay a ruling on the matter (belatedly finding that Congress did indeed have a right to review Trump’s taxes) for more than two years. 

By their very actions, Trump, Rettig and McFadden demonstrate why the mandate to have the president’s and vice-president’s taxes audited each year should be codified into law. Power corrupts, and throughout his four years in office Trump showed all Americans how easily it seeps into our own democracy — even in plain view. 

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass, who has led the House Ways and Means Committee’s effort to oversee the IRS’s audit of the president’s taxes, recently called for Congress to codify into law mandatory audits of presidents while they are in office and to publicly disclose related information.

Hopefully, it’s yet another bill that can be passed quickly in the House and Senate, and signed by President Biden before House Republicans, who have been against enforcing the mandate since Trump was elected, take charge. 

There’s no malice in having Trump’s taxes be audited, or the taxes of any president, just equity designed to protect our democracy. What Trump has done is show Americans why such action should be law.

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Importantly, other measures to protect the nation’s democracy are included in the omnibus appropriations bill set to be voted on before year-end. With important Republican support, Democrats adopted measures that would protect against the very tactics Trump used to try to reverse Biden’s victory (with regard to verifying electors, the vice president’s role in counting those electors and more). It’s a tacit admission by many Republicans that what Trump tried to do — stage a coup over a duly elected president — should never happen again.

Both are hard-earned presents that may yet strengthen the nation. 

Angelo Lynn

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