During the presidential campaign Donald Trump broke with decades of tradition by refusing to release his tax information to the public. Trump said he was not disclosing the information due to being audited by the IRS, and this excuse was severely debunked to the point of Trump no longer offering it as an answer. Now the majority of American people still want, and demand, to see Trump’s taxes. A misstep by Republicans in the senate has opened the door to a legal means to force Trump’s hand to disclose the documents. For once their hubris is catching up to them.
The senate majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell used an arcane senate procedure, rule 19, to prevent Sen. Elizabeth Warren from continuing to speak during the confirmation hearings of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States. In bringing out this rule, McConnell inspired Democrats to bring out long forgotten rules as well.
Congressman Bill Pascrell wrote a letter demanding a law which has been on the books since 1924 be used to force Trump to release his taxes. The law says members of Congress can insist on seeing documents to address any potential conflicts of interest, and Trump must adhere to the congressional order. Pascrell wrote:
Dear Chairman Brady:
The Founding Fathers were determined to prevent corruption among public officeholders under our Constitution. The emoluments clause prohibits federal officeholders from accepting foreign gifts or emoluments without congressional consent. Their intention was to forbid relationships that might lead to corruption. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe and lawyer Joshua Matz have written that the meaning of “emoluments” as the framers intended included profits received in a business relationship.
President Trump has chosen to keep an ownership stake in his businesses, the scope of which we have no knowledge of as he has refused to disclose his tax returns. We believe that it is imperative for the public to know and understand his 564 financial positions in domestic and foreign companies, and his self-reported net worth of more than $10 billion. We know that state-owned enterprises in China and the United Arab Emirates are involved in his businesses, and that his business ties stretch to India, Turkey, the Philippines, and beyond. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan may also have ties to his businesses.These foreign entities are paying rents, licensing agreement payments, and issuing permits for developments — effectively giving them a tool to influence our new President.
None of these potential conflicts can be verified until and unless we have disclosure from President Trump. Every major Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, with the exception of President Gerald Ford who released a summary of tax data, has released his or her tax returns for public review – until now.
If the President does not either release his returns or consent to examination of such returns by this Committee, I urge you, as Chairman of the Committee and pursuant to Section 6103(f)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, to submit a written request to the Secretary of the Treasury for copies of the President’s federal tax returns by February 15, 2017. These returns and all accompanying return information should then be made available for examination by all Committee Members in a closed executive session. I further request that the Committee then vote in this closed session to submit the President’s federal tax returns to the House of Representatives—thereby, if successful, making them available to the public. This Committee followed a similar procedure to release confidential taxpayer information in the past during its exhaustive investigation of the treatment of certain tax-exempt organizations.
The Presidential campaign is over and the fear that a political opponent will try to use tax returns for electoral benefit is passed. President Trump is now governing while also owning a business with international investments. The Constitution faces unprecedented threats due to this arrangement. I believe the powerful Ways and Means Committee has the responsibility to use that power to ensure proper oversight of the executive branch by requesting a review of President Trump’s tax returns and moving towards a formal release of these documents to the public.
I look forward to your reply.
Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress