Here are two conditions the Democrat should set.
I worry about Joe Biden debating Donald Trump. He should do it only under two conditions. Otherwise, he’s giving Trump unfair advantages.
First, Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. Biden has already done so, and they are on his website. Trump must, too. No more gifting Trump something he can attack while hiding his own questionable finances.
And second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.
Debates always have ground rules. Why can’t telling the truth and equal transparency on taxes be conditions for this one?
Yes, the fact that we have to make truth-telling an explicit condition is an incredibly sad statement about our time; normally such things are unspoken and understood. But if the past teaches us anything, Trump might very well lie and mislead for the entire debate, forcing Biden to have to spend a majority of his time correcting Trump before making his own points.
That is not a good way for Biden to reintroduce himself to the American people. And, let’s not kid ourselves, these debates will be his reintroduction to most Americans, who have neither seen nor heard from him for months if not years.
Because of Covid-19, Biden has been sticking close to home, wearing a mask and social distancing. And with the coronavirus now spreading further, and Biden being a responsible individual and role model, it’s likely that he won’t be able to engage with any large groups of voters before Election Day. Therefore, the three scheduled televised debates, which will garner huge audiences, will carry more weight for him than ever.
He should not go into such a high-stakes moment ceding any advantages to Trump. Trump is badly trailing in the polls, and he needs these debates much more than Biden does to win over undecided voters. So Biden needs to make Trump pay for them in the currency of transparency and fact-checking — universal principles that will level the playing field for him and illuminate and enrich the debates for all citizens.
Of course, Trump will stomp and protest and say, “No way.” Fine. Let Trump cancel. Let Trump look American voters in the eye and say: “There will be no debate, because I should be able to continue hiding my tax returns from you all, even though I promised that I wouldn’t and even though Biden has shown you his. And there will be no debate, because I should be able to make any statement I want without any independent fact-checking.”
If Trump says that, Biden can retort: “Well, that’s not a debate then, that’s a circus. If that’s what you want, why don’t we just arm wrestle or flip a coin to see who wins?”
I get why Republican senators and Fox News don’t press Trump on his taxes or call out his lies. They’re afraid of him and his base and unconcerned about the truth. But why should Biden, or the rest of us, play along?
After all, these issues around taxes and truth are more vital than ever for voters to make an informed choice.
Trump, you will recall, never sold his Trump Organization holdings or put them into a blind trust — as past presidents did with their investments — to avoid any conflicts of interest. Rather, his assets are in a revocable trust, whose trustees are his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Which is a joke.
Trump promised during the last campaign to release his tax returns after an I.R.S. “audit” was finished. Which turned out to have been another joke.
Once elected, Trump claimed that the American people were not interested in seeing his tax returns. Actually, we are now more interested than ever — and not just because it’s utterly unfair that Biden go into the debate with all his income exposed (he and his wife, Jill, earned more than $15 million in the two years after they left the Obama administration, largely from speaking engagements and books) while Trump doesn’t have to do the same.
There must be something in those tax returns that Trump really does not want the American public to see. It may be just silly — that he’s actually not all that rich. It may have to do with the fact that foreign delegations and domestic lobbyists, who want to curry favor with him, stay in his hotel in Washington or use it for corporate entertaining.
Or, more ominously, it may be related to Trump’s incomprehensible willingness to give Russian President Vladimir Putin the benefit of every doubt for the last three-plus years. Virtually every time there has been a major public dispute between Putin and U.S. intelligence agencies alleging Russian misdeeds — including, of late, that the Kremlin offered bounties for the killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan — Trump has sided with Putin.
The notion that Putin may have leverage over him is not crazy, given little previous hints by his sons.
As Michael Hirsh recalled in a 2018 article in Foreign Policy about how Russian money helped to save the Trump empire from bankruptcy: “In September 2008, at the ‘Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate’ conference in New York, the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr., said:
‘In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’”
The American people need to know if Trump is in debt in any way to Russian banks and financiers who might be close to Putin. Because if Trump is re-elected, and unconstrained from needing to run again, he will most likely act even more slavishly toward Putin, and that is a national security threat.
At the same time, debating Trump is unlike debating any other human being. Trump literally lies as he breathes, and because he has absolutely no shame, there are no guardrails. According to the Fact Checker team at The Washington Post, between Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, and May 29, 2020, he made 19,127 false or misleading claims.
Biden has been dogged by bone-headed issues of plagiarism in his career, but nothing compared to Trump’s daily fire hose of dishonesty, which has no rival in U.S. presidential history. That’s why it’s so important to insist that the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates hire independent fact-checkers who, after the two candidates give their closing arguments — but before the debate goes off the air — would present a rundown of any statements that were false or only partly true.
Only if leading into the debate, American voters have a clear picture of Trump’s tax returns alongside Biden’s, and only if, coming out of the debate, they have a clear picture of who was telling the truth and who was not, will they be able to make a fair judgment between the two candidates.
That kind of debate and only that kind of debate would be worthy of voters’ consideration and Biden’s participation.
Otherwise, Joe, stay in your basement.
A federal judge in New York on Monday ruled President Trump’s accounting firm must turn over eight years of his personal and business tax returns, an order immediately put on hold by an appeals court.
The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Mr. Trump against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Mazars USA LLP, his longtime accounting firm. Mr. Trump sought to block a subpoena for his tax returns that state prosecutors sent to the accounting firm, saying it was unconstitutional to subject a sitting president to what he called the “criminal process.”
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Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed an emergency appeal minutes after the ruling, leading a judge from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the ruling temporarily on hold “because of the unique issues raised by this appeal.” Mr. Vance’s office asked the court to hear arguments on the matter this week, but it isn’t clear when the panel will rule.
Mr. Vance’s office sent the subpoena to Mazars in August as part of its probe into whether payments made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, and how these payments were recorded, violate a state law against falsifying business records.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero rejected the idea that a president couldn’t be investigated while in office. “This Court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process,” wrote Judge Marrero, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
The judge said he recognized that subjecting a president to certain criminal proceedings, such as imprisonment, would interfere with his official duties. But the idea that the president, his business entities, relatives and private activities are immune from any criminal process is too broad, he said.
“This Court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values,” Judge Marrero wrote.
Responding to the ruling on Twitter, Mr. Trump wrote, “The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close! “
The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!28K people are talking about this
A spokesman for Mr. Vance, a Democrat, declined to comment. Within minutes of the ruling, lawyers for Mr. Trump appealed the decision to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last week, the Justice Department weighed in on the case, asking the judge to temporarily block enforcement of the subpoena to allow for further consideration of the legal issues. The Justice Department lawyers also said the dispute should remain in federal court, not state court as requested by Mr. Vance’s office.
In a letter to the judge, prosecutors from Mr. Vance’s office said delaying enforcement of the subpoena would likely result in the statute of limitations expiring for state crimes under consideration. They asked Judge Marrero to dismiss the case. “The Plaintiff’s only goal in this litigation, now supported by the DOJ itself, is to obtain as much delay as possible, through litigation, stays, and appeals,” the state prosecutors wrote.
The state probe comes on the heels of a federal investigation into hush-money payments that concluded this summer. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges including violating campaign-finance laws as a result of that investigation, is now in federal prison.
Mr. Vance’s prosecutors have said the tax returns would remain confidential because they are part of a grand-jury proceeding. During a hearing, a lawyer for Mr. Trump said he didn’t think Mr. Vance’s office could make this promise.
“We do not know how the district attorney will respond to a subpoena from Congress,” said the lawyer, William Consovoy. “Would those secrecy laws trump that subpoena?”
Several disputes over Mr. Trump’s tax returns are making their way through federal courts.
A confidential Internal Revenue Service legal memo says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The memo contradicts the Trump administration’s justification for denying lawmakers’ request for President Trump’s tax returns, exposing fissures in the executive branch.
Trump has refused to turn over his tax returns but has not invoked executive privilege. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has instead denied the returns by arguing there is no legislative purpose for demanding them.
But according to the IRS memo, which has not been previously reported, the disclosure of tax returns to the committee “is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs.”
The 10-page document says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.
“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee . . . to state a reason for the request,” it says. It adds that the “only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”
“The memo is clear in its interpretation of the law that the IRS shall furnish this information,” said William Lowrance, who served for about two decades as an attorney in the IRS chief counsel’s office and reviewed the memo at the request of The Post.
Daniel Hemel, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who also reviewed the memo for The Post, said the document suggests a split over Trump’s returns between career staffers at the IRS and political appointees at that agency and the Treasury Department.
“The memo writer’s interpretation is that the IRS has no wiggle room on this,” Hemel said. “Mnuchin is saying the House Ways and Means Committee has not asserted a legitimate legislative purpose. The memo says they don’t have to assert a legitimate legislative purpose — or any purpose at all.”
Last week, Mnuchin told a Senate panel that Treasury Department lawyers held an early discussion about disclosing the tax returns long before Democrats officially demanded the documents in April. He did not reveal details of that deliberation or say what, if any, legal memos he had reviewed.
Some legal experts have held that the law is clear in giving Congress the power to compel the provision of the returns. But other former government lawyers, including two who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, have argued that the law is unconstitutional and could lead to widespread abuses of taxpayer privacy for political aims.
The IRS memo describes how and why Congress has the authority to access tax returns, explaining the origin of the provision and how it has been interpreted over the decades.
It highlights the special powers given to three committees for compelling the release of tax returns: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Other congressional committees, the memo emphasizes, do not have the same authority.
When it comes to the Ways and Means Committee, the obligation to divulge the returns “would not be affected by the failure” to give a reason for the request. By contrast, other committees “must include a purpose for their request for returns and return information when seeking access,” the memo states.
“One potential basis” for refusing the returns, the memo states, would be if the administration invoked the doctrine of executive privilege.
But the IRS memo notes that executive privilege is most often invoked to protect information, such as opinions and recommendations, submitted as part of formulating policies and decisions. It even says the law “might be read to preclude a claim of executive privilege,” meaning the law could be interpreted as saying executive privilege cannot be invoked to deny a subpoena.
Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service published a review of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code that found the code “evinces no substantive limitations” on the Ways and Means Committee’s authority to receive the tax returns.
But, the CRS report added, the committee’s authority “arguably is subject to the same legal limitations that generally attach to Congress’ use of other compulsory investigative tools,” including the need to serve some “legislative purpose” and not breach constitutional rights.
Among Schiff’s new committee hires is Abigail C. Grace, who served as an Asia policy staffer on the National Security Council during the Trump administration until departing last spring for a Washington think tank.
At the Center for a New American Security, Grace worked as a research associate in the Asia-Pacific Security Program, a relatively junior-level position. She published essays on Asia policy and was quoted in news articles, including in The Washington Post, offering analysis about Trump’s Asia strategy. She announced her departure from the think tank last week and began work Monday on Schiff’s team, specializing in East Asia affairs, said people who know her.
.. “Although none of our staff has come directly from the White House, we have hired people with prior experience on the National Security Council staff for oversight of the agencies, and will continue to do so at our discretion,” the aide said.
A fluent Chinese speaker who accompanied Trump on his visit to five Asian countries in November 2017, Grace is expected to help the committee conduct oversight as the administration pursues high-stakes negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and a trade war with China.
Grace was not a political appointee but rather a civil servant who started at the NSC working on Middle East affairs during the Obama administration in 2016, before switching to a focus on East Asia, said those familiar with her work. Her duties included assisting Matt Pottinger, the NSC’s senior Asia director who helps national security adviser John Bolton coordinate policy among the federal agencies and advise Trump.
.. Some senior Trump aides have privately expressed concern that Schiff’s hiring of former White House staff members is a bid for inside information that could be particularly damaging — a sign of the growing alarm over the president’s vulnerability in a new era of divided government.
But former staffers from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, as well as longtime civil servants, said it was not unusual for government policy experts to leave and wind up advising or working for lawmakers.
“It happens every day,” said a Capitol Hill staffer who is not on Schiff’s committee. The staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, rattled off a number of former Hill aides who had worked as policy experts in past administrations. “My understanding is that Schiff was going from the minority to the majority and had to staff up more fully. It’s the normal way things operate.”
.. Also on Thursday, the House held a hearing on obtaining Trump’s tax returns, listening to tax experts who discussed the impact of legislative language that would force presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns after they win their party’s nomination.
Three congressional officials are empowered legally to seek taxpayer information from the Treasury Department: the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation. But Rep. Mike Kelly (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that held the hearing, said Congress is barred from releasing tax returns for political purposes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), responding to criticism from liberals that the House leadership has not moved quickly enough to obtain Trump’s tax returns, said, “You have to be very, very careful if you go forward.”
“In terms of the tax issue, it’s not a question of just sending a letter,” Pelosi said. “I know there’s this impatience because people want to know, that answers the question, but we have to do it in a very careful way.”