Robert Charles: Seeking the president’s tax returns as ‘oversight’ is unprecedented — and pure politics

Do Americans really care about President Trump's tax returns?
Do Americans really care about President Trump’s tax returns?

Whoa! In a radical departure from American legal and political tradition, the chairman of the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee just demanded the non-partisan IRS produce a Republican president’s tax returns.

The demand is more than audacious. It is transparently political and inappropriate. It is arguably a form of political corruption — the kind we fight against around the world. Having managed law enforcement and “rule of law” programs in 70 countries for the U.S. State Department, this kind of behavior is what we look out for: politically-motivated overreach. This is akin to Third World behavior coming to America.

The chairman’s demand carries an April 10 deadline and sweeps for his opponent’s personal and business tax records (both current and distant past). It is part of a broader Democratic plan of attack on the president and comes with an implicit subpoena threat, but it has no legal-basis and is — in a word — ominous.


Arresting is the naked audacity of such a plainly out-of-bounds congressional demand from a non-partisan agency. Tax returns are by definition treated differently from other documents. Like personal medical records, social security numbers, encrypted passwords, and personal thoughts, specific privacy expectations attach.

That is doubly so when private records may be used for political purposes, as that crosses two live wires that should never cross in a non-corrupt republic. The congressional demand is an implied threat to use legally private records to coerce, embarrass, leverage, impugn, extort or compel a political advantage — presumably in the 2020 election or through impeachment.

The chairman uses the convenient fig leaf of a 1924 law allowing him to see any tax record with the laughable assertion of non-political congressional oversight authority. Notably, the 1924 law was not…


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