That move will occasion a response from Neal — in the form of a subpoena, a contempt vote or a lawsuit. No matter what Neal chooses, this fight is headed into the legal arena sooner rather than later.
And it’s likely that it winds up, at some point, in front of the Supreme Court.
Which is, if you stop and think about it, remarkable. We are now using the Supreme Court to litigate something that, prior to Trump, was seen as de rigeur for people running for president. Sure, some candidates released more years of their tax returns. And some released less. Some did so with little prompting while others — Bernie Sanders in 2016 — had to be dragged kicking and screaming to transparency.
But, the point remains: Donald Trump was (and is) the only major party presidential nominee since Watergate to never release any past tax returns. He is also the only president to refuse to release even a year of past returns.
So, why? Why never release any tax returns during the course of the campaign? Why offer a variety of shifting explanations — under audit, too complex, no one cares — for why you aren’t releasing them? And why carry the fight possibly all the way to the nation’s highest court?
Mnuchin’s stated reason for not turning over the taxes to Neal is that the Massachusetts Democrat is not asking for the returns for legitimate reasons but rather to score political points — and, therefore, the Internal Revenue Service (and the Treasury) doesn’t need to comply with a little-known statute that allows a select few members of Congress to see Trump’s tax returns.
“In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and … the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information,” Mnuchin wrote to Neal on Monday.
No matter where you come down on that legal technicality, it still doesn’t explain Trump’s long-running resistance to releasing his tax returns. He’s been fighting against transparency on this front from the beginning of his candidacy — despite running a campaign in which he put his supposed wealth and success front and center.
Which gets me back to the question of why. Here are a few of the most likely reasons:
“Known as net operating loss, it allows an array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of people like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income.”
As the Times noted, Trump’s $916 million loss in 1995 could have allowed him to pay $0 in personal income taxes for the next 18 years.
Whatever the reason (or reasons), it’s very clear that Trump — soon after he became a candidate for president — reversed course on his past pledges to release his returns.
(Nota bene: There is no law that forbids a president — or any citizen — from releasing their taxes while under audit.)
What changed? Who knows! But, it’s quite clear that sometime between February 2015 and February 2016, Trump decided that whatever was in his returns would be far worse for him if it got out than the negative press he would take for not releasing them. And he’s not backing away from that decision. Not for anything.