President Trump’s Treasury Department knows that the Democratic majority in the House means renewed scrutiny on the president’s personal income taxes and have been preparing a series of legal strategies aimed at keeping them a secret, Politico reports. Democrats since before the 2016 election have been calling for Trump’s tax records, with many suggesting that they would likely reveal damning financial conflicts of interests at home and abroad, with concerns ranging from emoluments clause violations to the possibility that a sitting president is beholden to foreign interests.
So far the only real window into Trump’s tax situation was a leaked copy of a 2005 return, which despite being made public in dramatic fashion by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, did not reveal anything of particular note. During the 2016 campaign, Trump indicated that he could not release his tax returns due to an ongoing IRS audit. He did say that he would share them once the audit was complete.
IRS officials at the time indicated that nothing from their point of view would preclude sharing of the returns and to-date, the president has not released those returns.
In any case, it is likely that congressional Democrats will make another run at exposing those tax records and more, particularly as Trump remains the only modern president to refuse their disclosure. In response, a senior team of political appointees and department lawyers within the Treasury are reportedly developing a multifaceted strategy to ward off the prying eyes of political opponents.
According to Politico, four Treasury officials shared that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to hinge the department’s arguments against releasing past tax returns based on the claim that Democrats would be unable to prevent a leak of Trump’s returns should they be delivered for their private review. Concurrently, the department would make the case that the Democrats’ interest in the information was purely political, casing any request for the returns as nothing more than a partisan attack.
“What happens if the Treasury secretary just doesn’t answer or sends back a note saying we refuse to do what you are saying?” wonders George Yin, a former chief of staff of the House Joint Committee on Taxation.
“To my knowledge, that has never happened.”
In such an event, Trump would once again be challenging the norms of the modern presidency. The unprecedented nature of the conflict would likely drag on for months, if not years, easily continuing on long enough to keep records obscured through the 2020 presidential campaign.
“We are essentially in uncharted territory if he refuses,” Yin says.