A thoughtful article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday (http://wapo.st/2kV9os6), penned by two law professors proposing a plan to “compromise” with President Trump to secure at least a quasi-public view of his tax returns. I would normally defer to this type of approach to solving a high-conflict problem, but in this case, I must, with respect to the authors, reject the idea for multiple reasons.
The concept involves engaging the staff of the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, now dominated by Republicans, to privately review Trump’s returns and prepare a “public summary report redacted of any proprietary business information.” The result would be two reports, one “large confidential” and one “redacted public,” based on some “bipartisan process” negotiated in advance with a “summary explanation of any compliance issues raised by the review.”
The problems with this well-intentioned proposal are many and, in my judgment, insuperable. First is the fact that Trump lied repeatedly about his intention to release his tax returns. This proposal gives him the benefit of those lies and that seems fundamentally wrong on multiple levels. Second, the complicated process does not result in full transparency and will almost certainly lead to continued complaints that critical details have been sanitized, whether intentionally or not. Third, there is no reason to trust the Republican majority to play this straight, as they have shown time and again an unwillingness to challenge the President’s remorseless lying, attacks on the independence of the press and many other examples too numerous to detail here but well-known to everyone paying attention. Finally, Trump’s dishonesty suggests he cannot be depended upon to live up to any arrangement if he suddenly decides he doesn’t like it. The latest reported efforts of the White House to suborn the FBI regarding the “Russia connection” are only one of many examples of the lengths Trump will go to delegitimize criticism.
It is true, of course, that full disclosure of Trump’s returns might reveal some confidential business information. That is a problem of his own making. If he had properly divested himself of his business interests, rather than the charade he perpetrated with the infamous stacks of legal documents display, these concerns would perhaps carry some weight. As it is, there is no reason to let Trump off the petard on which he has hoisted himself. If he persists with the fantasy, often repeated by his chief counselor, Kellyanne Conway, that since he won the election, no one cares about his tax returns, he and those who support him will suffer the political consequences. As Abraham Lincoln allegedly said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Time will tell. Let’s not make it easy for the foolers.