Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless …

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 shamethere 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.

Supreme Court case on Trump’s taxes may show if he benefits from CARES Act

In early May, after weeks of delay prompted by the pandemic, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three highly-anticipated cases about president Donald Trump’s financial records. One of those matters involve a subpoena for Trump’s taxes.

The case is important. Trump, unlike any president in recent history, has refused to disclose his finances, obscuring potential conflict of interests between his government and his personal business. But the issue has now taken on a whole new urgency because the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress last month contains deep within its 800 pages two barely-noticeable tax clauses that only benefit rich Americans, perhaps including the president.

The new tax clauses will cost Americans about $195 billion over 10 years. They suspend previously-placed limits on tax offsets and apply retroactively, meaning millionaires will make a killing based on past circumstances while millions of Americans lose their jobs and struggle to survive the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis. This, despite the fact that, officially, the businesses of Trump and others in government cannot benefit from the stimulus package.

In other words, politicians apparently found a workaround for the protections meant to shield the people from government corruption.

“The [tax] policy is complex,” senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told Quartz. “But the principle is straightforward: In the midst of a national health emergency, we ought to help those who need it—like healthcare workers and small businesses—not give huge tax breaks to hedge fund managers and real estate investors. This is a special-interest looting of the American taxpayer, plain and simple.”

Precisely how much Trump stands to gain from the “bonanza” tax breaks is unclear because he has refused to disclose his finances. The president has so far intervened in cases ordering his accountants and business associates to reveal their dealings with him, arguing that the chief executive’s records are special.

Supreme Court precedent indicates otherwise, however, and the new tax provisions in the CARES Act raise additional suspicions about his secret records that can’t be put to rest without full disclosure.

“If we had Trump’s tax returns, as we do for every other president in the modern era, the American people could see what kind of conflicts of interest and financial mischief swirl around their president,” Whitehouse said. “In this case, we could see whether Trump himself would benefit from giveaways like these provisions.”

On swindles and windfalls

The suspect clauses are hundreds of pages deep in the hastily-passed emergency CARES Act. They benefit a relatively small group of wealthy taxpayers and have nothing to do with battling Covid-19 or providing relief to the Americans worst-hit by the crisis, but Whitehouse said Republican politicians made them a priority during negotiations.

Members of Congress knew the tax clauses were in there. But the specifics, the extent to which these breaks could line the pockets of the rich and benefit wealthy real estate investors like the president and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, were not immediately apparent.

“What was a surprise was just how much money those provisions will loot from taxpayers to send to real estate investors and other million-dollar-plus earners—tax filers like the Trumps and Kushners,” Whitehouse said.

The astronomical cost only became evident a day after CARES was signed into law, when the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) published an analysis of the provisions. The committee’s latest findings show that four of five millionaires will pocket an average of $1.6 million more this year alone thanks to the stimulus bill. This of course dwarfs the $1,200 one-time checks average Americans will receive.

In total the tax clauses will cost taxpayers more than the funding allotted in the CARES Act to all hospitals throughout the US, and more than the relief provided to all state and local governments, according to the JCT analysis. Together, they are the costliest elements of the relief package. For that reason, Whitehouse and Texas representative Lloyd Doggett, as committee members, want to know what role, if any, the Trump administration played in advocating for these policies.

On April 9, they sent a letter demanding to review all communications pertaining to any internal advocacy for the suspect clauses. The missive was addressed to vice president Mike Pence, secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin, and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought. The lawmakers want the records “so that Congress and the American public can better understand the provenance of these tax law changes, and assess whether any individuals within the Administration who stand to gain from these provisions were involved in their development.”

SCOTUS to the rescue?

One bitter irony of this especially cruel spring of 2020 is that the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, just days before the Supreme Court was originally meant to hear the Trump finance matters.

The hearings were delayed due to concerns about crowds in the courtroom. They would not have addressed the suspicious provisions in the CARES Act. But perhaps the JCT’s discovery of the tax clauses’ astronomical cost, published just ahead of debates over the president’s unprecedented secrecy, would have alerted Americans to the need for full financial disclosure from Trump and his subpoenaed business associates.

Instead, whispers of the secret tax windfalls were drowned out by the roar of justified pandemic panic. At that point, the people were more worried about ventilator and mask shortages than secret surpluses for the super rich and there was no dearth of pressing news to preoccupy journalists and readers. Indeed, it seemed—at least to some—that the typical ideological rifts had been overcome for the common good. “At times, our nation can appear sharply divided; divided by generations, by left and right, by our differences, and even by the donkey and the elephant,” Forbes wrote hopefully of the stimulus bill. “Sometimes, circumstances arise that compel us to either rise as one or be shattered.”

Alas, that quickly proved to be an illusion. The reality is far more stark. As The Washington Post put it on April 14, “[E]very voter should know that, at a time when hospitals, cities and states cried out for help with the pandemic, the president’s allies in Congress tossed a [$195 billion] lifeline in the direction of Trump, Kushner and other rich people who needed it the least.”

Now, with the federal and state governments planning an easing of lockdowns—or as the Trump administration puts it “Opening Up America Again”—it’s perhaps also the right moment to pay attention to the president’s unprecedented secrecy about his finances.

If the Supreme Court decides after its historic telephonic oral arguments on May 4 that Trump doesn’t have the right to hide his taxes and financial records, contrary to his claims, the third parties subpoenaed over their dealings with Trump will turn the records over, they say. Whitehouse said the documentation could potentially clarify the extent to which Trump will personally benefit from the costly tax clauses in the CARES Act.

“We already know about massive conflicts of interest for the president, whether it’s foreign dignitaries staying at his hotels or shunting military planes to Scotland to steer business to his resorts,” the senator said. “Seeing the president’s full financial records would show us much more, like whether these provisions will pad the Trump family’s bottom line.”

Need to Know: Coronavirus

Federal Judge Tosses Trump Attempt to Block Subpoena for His Tax Returns

Judge rules President Trump isn’t immune from criminal investigations while in office; Appeals court blocks immediate enforcement of subpoena

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! “

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

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.

In New York, a federal appeals court is weighing a case in which Mr. Trump sued Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. to block the banks from complying with congressional subpoenas.

In California, a federal judge temporarily suspended a new state law requiring presidential candidates to make their tax returns public in order to appear on the state’s primary-election ballot.

Laurence Tribe On Trump’s Desperate Legal Filing And Whistleblower

Trump’s legal team filed a claim to stop a Manhattan D.A.’s subpoena of his tax returns that said the President cannot be prosecuted or investigated while in office. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe tells Lawrence why Trump’s lawyers are wrong- and why the tax return subpoena cannot be stopped. Aired on 09/19/19.

Treasury Sec Mnuchin Struggles When Asked If He Ordered IRS To Defy Congress | The Last Word | MSNBC

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin denied that he violated the law by refusing to give Trump’s tax returns to Congress though a newly revealed IRS draft memo says he must. Attorney and IRS veteran William Lowrance joins Lawrence.

Trump Must Show Tax Returns To Be Reelected

Trump’s reelection could be hurt by a new California law. Brett Erlich and Jayar Jackson break it down on The Damage Report. Follow The Damage Report on Facebook:

“SACRAMENTO — President Trump will be ineligible for California’s primary ballot next year unless he discloses his tax returns under a state law that took effect immediately Tuesday, an unprecedented mandate that is almost certain to spark a high-profile court fight and might encourage other states to adopt their own unconventional rules for presidential candidates. The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on the final day he could take action after it passed on a strict party-line vote in the Legislature earlier this month, requires all presidential candidates to submit five years of income tax filings. They must do so by late November to secure a spot on California’s presidential primary ballot in March. State elections officials will post the financial documents online, although certain private information must first be redacted. “As one of the largest economies in the world and home to one in nine Americans eligible to vote, California has a special responsibility to require this information of presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Newsom said in a statement that accompanied his signature on the bill. “These are extraordinary times and states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence. The disclosure required by this bill will shed light on conflicts of interest, self-dealing, or influence from domestic and foreign business interest.” Trump, who is not singled out by the law but is clearly its inspiration, is likely to fight back.”