Individual financial records are private. Grandmothers warn kids not to talk about money; families do not even share financial information among themselves. But candidates for and holders of public office should have no such expectations.
For decades, presidential candidates have released their income tax returns to the public. Democratic hopefuls in the 2020 presidential race are already posting theirs, though some, like many other taxpayers, will not get their returns finished before April 15.
For three years, President Donald Trump has claimed he cannot release his returns because he is under audit. He said he will do so at some point, seemingly when hell freezes over. Now, the temperature around those returns is turning very, very cold.
Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., the closemouthed head of the House Ways and Means Committee, has demanded the IRS turn over six years of President Trump’s returns to the committee. The IRS cannot say no.
Tax code Section 6103 requires that the IRS comply with congressional oversight demands. The provision was created in the 1920s after the Harding administration Teapot Dome bribery scandal.
Chairman Neal’s request will not open Trump’s returns to the public. In fact, he has taken care to protect IRS compliance from Freedom of Information requests.
This week, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig affirmed there is no rule against releasing tax returns under audit. Whether President Trump’s returns are being audited is still uncertain.
What is certain is that the White House intends to fight every effort to inspect those returns. Treasury Secretary and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has vowed the Democrats will never see the returns. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow called the requests a political tactic.
Being president of the United States means giving up being a private citizen. Anyone who runs for president should expect to open their lives to intense scrutiny, and to put private financial affairs completely aside.
President Trump wants it both ways, hiding his finances while remaining involved in private businesses that may conflict with his public responsibilities. Of course, President Trump could release his tax returns voluntarily. Not likely.
Demanding President Trump’s tax returns is neither playing politics nor violating privacy. The IRS must respect the rule of law and deliver the tax returns.