Reviews | House shouldn’t have released Trump’s personal tax returns
The committee noted that it:
[S]Should the former president’s return information and tax returns investigate the operation of the IRS’ mandatory audit program under the stress of a president who maintained financial interests in hundreds of related entities and would have been audited annually.
Thus, the committee focused on the IRS’ mandatory audit program. This program was created in 1977. Wisely, it took individual IRS employees to determine if they “should” audit a president’s returns. This could be tricky because the IRS is part of the executive branch, which is headed by a president. To insulate the audit and auditors from the policy, the IRS Handbook turned the “should” question into a “mandatory” requirement: Since 1977, it provides that the “[i]The President’s and Vice President’s individual tax returns are subject to mandatory reviews. »
The committee heard that during Trump’s tenure, he filed five personal income tax returns with the IRS, all of which should have gone through the mandatory audit program. But the committee found that three of the five statements – for calendar years 2017, 2018 and 2019 – “were not selected for review until after [Trump] left office and only the 2016 tax return was subject to mandatory review.
Curiously, the committee also noted that “the IRS sent a letter to [Trump] advising him that his statement … 2015 was held for review on April 3, 2019, the date on which [committee] sent the initial request to the IRS for [Trump’s] … tax returns.” This doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
Why didn’t the IRS follow its own nearly half-century-old policy? This was one of the main issues raised in the committee’s report. Maybe the IRS failed because Trump’s returns were overly complex. Perhaps, relatedly, it failed because the IRS did not have sufficient resources to verify a complex statement. Perhaps, and this is a guess, it was something more nefarious.
The committee’s report recommends ways to fix the structural failures of the IRS in the future. It seems valuable. And that seems like reason enough to me to get and consider feedback from Trump. For example, the committee couldn’t know how difficult it might be for the IRS to verify Trump’s statements if it didn’t know how complex they were in the first place.
But publication of its yields is different. How does the publication advance the committee’s otherwise valuable findings? Couldn’t the committee highlight IRS failures in a report and keep Trump’s statements private? I believe him. In other words, what is the connection between the valid concerns raised by the committee — the deficiencies in the mandatory audit program they identified at the IRS — and the committee’s decision to make Trump’s statements public? None, that I see.
I’m not, to say the least, a Trump fan, so my next words may sound strange, but here goes: the committee’s decision to release the feedback was unfair to Trump. So why am I afraid of being unfair to Trump? Because principles of fairness should matter to all of us, all the time, and apply to all of us, all the time, even if they don’t matter to Trump.
Trump seems like a bad person to me. In many ways, he’s not much different from most people I’ve met as a federal prosecutor. He is greedy, dishonest, self-centered, narcissistic and reckless. But all the people we prosecuted deserved to be treated fairly for legal, ethical, and moral reasons, and they deserved to be treated fairly all the time, whether we like them or not. We cannot treat people we love fairly and people we dislike unfairly. It would be a death spiral for our justice system and for our democracy.
The committee did a good job of uncovering the shortcomings of the IRS. These shortcomings must be corrected. But control of the House of Representatives – and its Ways and Means Committee – will soon pass to another party. This party may find it politically expedient to obtain and publish the tax returns of people it does not like. And the committee will have the power to do that. Perhaps the new majority in the House will surprise me and show restraint. Or, perhaps, they will try to “take revenge”. Time will tell, but we should all fear the latter.