Congress will be releasing Mr. Trump's tax returns from during his original campaign and Presidency. Most modern Presidents have just made them public as a matter of routine; he refused, saying he was under audit.
But it is apparently mandatory for IRS to audit the tax returns of a sitting President. That was news to me this morning and I'm in favor of it. If any President used the complimentary shampoo at the hotel in Far-off Foreignistan, or the High Panjadrum there slipped him a diamond necklace, I want to know about it. Whatever spare change he earned selling copies of Grit
or hawking his autobiography, I want to know about it. If he's given a huge wheel of cheese
, lets it sit in the entrance hall of the White House for a year and then invites the public to drop by and eat it up
? I want an accounting of it -- and if he charges them a dime a nibble, he'd damned well better report that income.
Here's the punchline: until 2019, none
of Mr. Trump's Presidential-time tax returns were under audit. That year, IRS apparently began to take a look at his 2015 (or 2016; reports vary) return, in a manner far more desultory than they did the year they decided losses on some rental property I owned weren't deductible but the income from it was, threw out my return and stuck me with a huge tax bill that took a decade to pay off. --But of course, I wasn't their boss. The good news is that if you've been fretting over a Federal "Deep State" gunning for poor old innocent Donald Trump, you can unclench: IRS is one of the biggest hammers in the Federal toolbox, and they deferred to the Chief Executive so abjectly that they didn't even do the auditing they are required by law to do.
Meanwhile, their boss lied about being audited as an excuse not to make his tax returns public, even though there's nothing in the IRS audit process that demands secrecy. The IRS knew his claim was untrue -- but said nothing, presumably unwilling to contradict the big man. That's not a Deep State, it's a state of spinelessness.
Elsewhere, the pundits are chewing away at the January 6 Committee's referrals to the Department of Justice, which include criminal charges for Mr. Trump's role in various phases of the insurrection and attempted autogolpe. DOJ already had a Special Prosecutor on the job and their own list of possible charges (which as far as I know, they haven't shared), so it's impossible to know how all that's going to play out until it happens. It's an ugly example of a very old principle: "If you strike at a king, don't miss." Over at The Bulwark+,* Jonathan V. Last lays out the three possibilities
and they're all bad:
1. Do nothing: "Boys will be boys," which will show there's no downside to trying to grab the government by stealth or force other than some bad press. In that case, it will happen again and again. Eventually, someone's going to succeed and it's not going to matter much what flavor of authoritarian we get, it'll suck. It'll be way worse, way sooner for some people than for others but in the not-so-long run, we'll all lose. Even a cursory glance at 20th Century history makes that obvious.
2. Go to court and lose: the same outcome as the first option, only now hard-core Trumpists (a subset of Republicans but a good-sized one) are even angrier than they were. Expect more couping, now with extra revenge! At least he will have had his day in court and with diligent attorneys on both sides, we can reasonably expect that a lot more of the facts will come to light. And it does raise the stakes for any future coup attempts.
3. Go to court and win: This is still not a happy reconciliation and a return to the halcyon days of yore; Mr. Trump's supporters will be madder yet, he'll be able to point to the trial as even more evidence for his claims of being persecuted and we'll still be short one functioning, normal political party. On the other hand, we have the same benefit as option 2: the lawyers are going to be able to do some serious digging, witnesses will have to testify under oath and they will have far fewer excuses for keeping secrets.
These are all lousy outcomes -- and they're all the result of a President who treated losing an election like he was having trouble getting a zoning exemption or attempting a hostile corporate takeover, resorting to guile and threats when a straightforward effort failed. But our Federal government isn't a zoning board or a business enterprise, and you can't do things that way. Career politicians know this; you can say a lot bad about them, lazy, feckless, slippery or even stupid, but nearly all of them know where the bottom is and why you don't try to dig through it. Donald Trump did not share that awareness and he still doesn't.
* The bulk of the article is paywalled, so don't ask me about his insightful conclusion; but as a nation, we'd already jumped out of the airplane by the end of the day on 6 January 2021 and from there down, the question is what we're going to use for a parachute and how hard we're going to hit when we inevitably reach the ground.