Jim Renacci: President Trump should be protected against improper disclosure of his returns

It’s hard to ignore how the win-at-all-costs attitude on Capitol Hill is morphing into something different and more dangerous. Old fashioned bare-knuckled politics have yielded to what could generously be described as creative tactics to skirt the law and score political points. Few, if any, congressional Democrats are concerned about inventing a crisis of confidence in the federal government by questioning whether a non-existent law is being followed in order to further their obsessive pursuit of President Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats dismiss this and argue with a straight face that releasing the president’s tax returns has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with oversight of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Nonsense. The record here is clear.

At the start of his presidency, congressional Democrats argued that releasing the president’s tax returns would offer insight into any possible connections with Russia. Then later, during the debate over tax reform, congressional Democrats argued that it was necessary to review the president’s tax returns to see how he might financially benefit from the changes being discussed. Those efforts failed spectacularly.

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Now, congressional Democrats argue that the president’s tax returns must be released so the people can be sure that the IRS is discharging its duties appropriately.  And yet, there is no evidence the IRS is violating the law, no evidence that the president has violated the law, and no political interest in launching a full investigation into the agency and its behavior.

Adding to the problem, U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is confusing the difference between something that is a law and something that is not a law.  The IRS’ administrative manual says that the president and vice president’s tax returns are subject to “mandatory examinations,” but it is not legally required to audit their returns.  Perhaps if the IRS Commissioner – confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September with the help of 15 Democrats – were asked to appear before the committee, he could educate the full committee and chairman.

Every day that the effort to target the president for political purposes continues, the chairman compounds the severe damage he is inflicting on his committee’s credibility and the confidence of the American people in their process. This congressional circus shows that under current law, no American can feel fully secure in the knowledge that their private tax records will be safeguarded against being used for political purposes.

If the president can be uniquely targeted, what confidence can political activists from the left and right have in the security of their records?  How about individuals who pose a political threat to Chairman Neal or other members of his party?

Weaponizing the power of the committee to target one person, who is not accused of violating federal tax law and has never been prosecuted for violating federal tax law, represents a major abuse of power. It should be opposed by both parties and any individual who believes that we are equal under the law.  And laws should be introduced that prevent dirty political dealings and backdoors into improper disclosures of private records.

I know Chairman Neal. He’s a good man. But this tactic begs the question of what he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will do when this latest effort fails. They are not truly interested in the IRS and whether they are auditing the president. They’re politicians and they believe seeing the president’s returns would be politically advantageous. I don’t know what they think they’d find, but having prepared tax returns for more than 30 years, I’d be happy to save them some time.

The president’s returns likely show the same complex network of income generating LLP’s and corporations that any successful American businessman would have. We would see his annual taxable income, deductions and charitable donations. A series of numbers that have little context or meaning.

Tax returns do not give insight into financial interests. They would not satisfy the public fascination with the highly arbitrary figure of the president’s net worth. This information cannot be not found on a tax return. Net worth is derived from the aggregate value of owned assets, which is very different than income.

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You do not have to publish your tax returns. Neither does a candidate for political office nor an officeholder.

Donald Trump is entitled to equal protection under the law. He is not accused of criminal wrongdoing. And he should be protected against improper disclosure of his personal records. This is not what Congress had in mind when it authorized the Ways and Means Committee to exercise oversight over the IRS.

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