Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Tax Imperative

On Tuesday morning, Maine senator and intelligence committee member Susan Collins, responding to news of the President evidently giving beyond-classified information to a couple of Russian officials, issued a statement reading in part

The disclosure of highly classified information has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our securityThere are conflicting reports about whether or not President Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians. Although the President has the legal authority to disclose classified information, it would be very troubling if he did share such sensitive reporting with the Russians.

As a.m. turned to p.m. and we learned that Trump apparently had suggested to FBI director Comey that he "go easy" on Mike Flynn, there were more Republicans willing to speak out, according to Politico.  Among them were Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who stated "It is important to get to the bottom of it. We've got one standard, and we need to make sure that applies to everybody." His North Carolinian colleague, Mark Walker, remarked "if this is legitimately something that there was some kind of influence or pressure from Comey doing his work, I'm going to be very disappointed." Philadelphia congressman Pat Meehan commented

This whole process is very difficult because we are seeing the central institution — the Justice Department, and the independence of the Justice Department — stretched. And people want to have confidence in the independence of [DOJ’s] activities. I’m hoping that throughout this long process, it can get back into a place where there could be confidence in the ability of the institutions to do their work.

And so go the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth.  The Politico reporters noted "Not since October’s “Access Hollywood” moment — when many Republicans believed Trump would have to drop out of the race over his hugely offensive comments about women — has the president faced such a serious political threat. "

But we remember what happened then, don't we? Expressions by Republicans of grave concern were emitted over a presidential candidate who was on tape making it clear he believed he was entitled to assault women sexually.  The outrage was sufficiently widespread that some pundits declared Trump dead in the water, that the only suspense was in determining whether he would be sufficiently pummeled that the GOP would lose control of the Senate.

Soon thereafter anger  of GOP politicians and Trump supporters, Republican or Independent, subsided and the Access Hollywood tape had no discernible effect on November's vote count. It turned out that among voters not already ant-Trump,  there was no problem with "I did try and fuck her. She was married" and "I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

Republicans who distanced themselves from Trump because of the tape fared more poorly at the polls than Republicans who went back to Trump or never questioned him at all. The message for GOP politicians, unsure of how long to stick with Trump, is clear.

Democrats need not sit idly by, however.  Two weeks ago, Daniel Hemel of Vox explained

A bill pending in Albany leverages the Empire State’s unique position as the sitting president’s lifelong home. It would require the state’s tax authority to publish any New York state returns filed by the president, the vice president, and all statewide elected officials. That bill would apply to returns filed in the past five years as well as all New York state returns filed by those officeholders in future years.

In March, CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju had spoken to Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and the Intelligence Committee, then found

Democrats “actually have the power” to subpoena Trump under committee rules despite being in the minority. But such a move could throw a wrench into the committee's bipartisan investigation into Russia's meddling in the election. And the White House would likely employ protections to keep Trump's tax returns under wraps, CNN reported.

That illustrated why Democrats must obtain the returns at almost any cost. The tax returns are sufficiently explosive that Donald Trump will do anything- legal, and probably beyond- to keep them secret. At the time, Senator Collins said that she wasn't ready to take that action, unsurprising because Susan Collins always is on the cusp of doing the right thing.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer purportedly is considerng the possibility of his caucus refusing to vote on any nominee of the President for FBI director until a special counsel is named to investigate the Trump/Russia/Comey affair. But Senate Democrats can do better.  As Vox's Jeff Stein notes

For instance, Senate Democrats could block McConnell on hundreds of decisions that are normally approved by unanimous consent without second thought — things like when the Senate will meet, minor and uncontroversial tweaks to legislation that doesn’t get written about in the press, and low-level presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation.

“All of the routine business of the Senate would stop,” said Huder, the Georgetown scholar. “Most of the things that happened in the Senate happen by unanimous consent, which is almost the exact opposite of the House.”

One key variable is that not every Senate Democrat needs to go along with the plan for it to work. “If a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation,” Jentleson writes. “Since every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats ... each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.”

A Special Counsel and an independent investigatory committee are both very important steps to take. But no investigation by anyone would be complete without the Donald Trump income tax returns of years past, and present. Get and analyze those returns, and Donald Trump is finished, not only as President, but possibly as a free man.

This blog is going on hiatus and will return on May 23.  Please return then, or I'll sic Jeff Sessions on you.

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