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“Want to make a bet? President Trump’s tax returns are probably full of all kinds of low-grade shady stuff. Most of these things are well known and perfectly legal. Shell companies and trusts. In-kind payments. Borrowing from one or more massive life insurance policies. Equity swaps. Endless amounts of cash shored away in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.
Then there are the things that would actually get him into trouble with our feeble tax authorities: massive amounts of income underreported or not reported at all, liabilities exaggerated to insane proportions, double and triple accounting of various expenses — all of it adding up to this alleged billionaire not having earned any net income in, well, as long as his army of accountants feel comfortable claiming.
We’ll never be able to settle this bet, alas, because the president’s tax returns are almost certainly never going to be revealed to the public. If they are, it will be because some IRS agent goes rogue, not because Trump’s lawyers agree to comply with the ludicrous request made recently by Rep. Richard E. Neal, the Boy Scout Massachusetts Democrat who now heads the House Ways and Means Committee, for tax records from the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, various businesses entities, and the president himself. As the president’s personal lawyer, William S. Consovoy, explained very ably in a letter that has been released to the public, this is nonsense.
There is, simply put, no constitutional mechanism for compelling a president to release his tax returns. This is not what the obscure 1924 provision of the Internal Revenue Code seized upon by Democrats provides for, either in its plain words or its legislative intent. The law exists to allow the Ways and Means Committee to view certain returns for clearly defined legislative purposes, of which harassing the sitting president is obviously not an example. Even the House’s ability to carry out investigations is limited to the furtherance of a legitimate and clearly enumerated legislative power. As the Supreme Court ruled in Watkins v. United States, a judicial decision that put the nail in the coffin of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Congress is not empowered to engage in “exposure for the sake of exposure” or perform “the functions of the executive” or a “law enforcement or trial agency.””
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