Yeah. We hate the IRS, the tax man, the Internal Revenue Service. Everyone hates the IRS, whether it’s tax time or not.
We might suppose that the greatest hater of all might be Donald Trump, who has built a thousand-foot wall around his tax returns and his financial shenanigans. But maybe not. We know that, for years on end, like Big Business generally, he paid no taxes. Although he bragged, and still brags, that he’s the world’s greatest tycoon, the world’s most successful entrepreneur — and, last week, “a genius” — we know that he’s fallen into huge losses and has known terrible business defeats.
In a 10-year period, between 1985 and 1994, he lost over a billion dollars — that’s more than a thousand millions. Those losses gave him the excuse not to pay taxes for eight of those 10 years.
He has his secrets. That’s one of the reasons he’s bent over backwards to keep people from seeing his actual tax returns. When he was campaigning for the presidency in 2016 he said he couldn’t bring out his tax returns because that nasty IRS was auditing them. He lies all the time. Presidential candidates for 40 years had opened the books to show their tax returns. No problem.
Trump has been in office more than two years, and still no tax returns.
Now he’s fighting Congress, tooth and nail, to avoid ‘fessing up. Congress has asked nicely and politely, finally, to see those tax returns, and Trump has stonewalled. Congress’s strongest power, after the power of the purse, is the subpoena — which compels, in its investigations, the appearances of witnesses and their submission of evidence.
Trump is in the midst of an across-the-board campaign to deny Congress’s power, a campaign that has created a constitutional crisis. The Constitution says directly that, for the good of the nation, Congress has the duty to oversee what the president and his administration are doing. During the past week two federal judges have laughed out of court Trump lawsuits intended to deny congressional subpoenas of information from his accountants and a German bank that has loaned him billions of dollars. The courts have told the accountants and the bank to give Congress the information it wants, and both are willing to do so.
As for the IRS, Trump has gone out of his way to sandbag its duty under the law to turn over his tax returns back to 2013. The law says, plainly, that the secretary of the Treasury, or its agency, the IRS, “shall furnish” the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee with any tax return requested in writing.
The Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, and his chief of the IRS, Charles Rettig, have refused. The House committee has subpoenaed both men. Can you believe it? Rettig and the IRS legal counsel, Michael Desmond, both have ties to Trump businesses, and Trump handpicked both to be in place for this fight over his tax returns.
Rettig owns half shares in two rental units at the Waikiki Trump International Hotel in Hawaii, and each is worth $1.1 million. As a tax attorney during Trump’s 2016 campaign, he argued in Forbes Magazine that Trump shouldn’t release his tax returns. Now that’s a lot of juice in the right place.
As a private tax lawyer, Desmond advised the Trump Organization on what a spokesman called a "discrete" IRS reporting matter before Trump took office, and he worked alongside two current tax lawyers for the Trump Organization, Sheri Dillon and William Nelson. In February when it looked certain that Congress intended to seek his tax returns, Trump personally lobbied Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to prioritize Desmond’s confirmation as the chief IRS lawyer.
When you see things like that, it doesn’t look like a level playing field.
Don’t you see, if a billionaire president can jingle around with the IRS, any billionaire can do it too. The IRS won’t be neutral anymore, and some rich guy who wants to get you in dutch can do what he wants.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.