The controversy over President Donald Trump’s tax returns reminds us that a president is our employee.
A president is there to work for us. If he’s working for someone else, we need to know.
Voters gave Trump the country’s most prestigious job even though he hadn’t released his tax returns — a break with tradition going back to Richard Nixon.
That break continues to spur speculation about the president across cable news and Sunday morning shows. If people are upset about wealthy parents buying their children’s way into college, imagine their fury at someone who could buy his way into the presidency.
Taxes are a touchy subject for Trump. The president had warned that special counsel Robert Mueller would cross a red line by digging into Trump’s finances. On the tax returns, Trump reportedly is willing to take his fight to the Supreme Court to keep them private. Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, told “Fox News Sunday” that Congress would “never” see the president’s taxes.
“What is President Trump so afraid of?” Erin Burnett asked Friday on CNN’s “OutFront” in one of the best discussions on the issue.
She noted that the IRS hasn’t confirmed Trump’s claim that he is under audit. She reminded viewers that Trump didn’t hold to a promise to release his returns.
“The idea that Donald doesn’t have to produce [the returns[ is absurd,” said David Cay Johnston, author of “The Making of Donald Trump.”
On Burnett’s show, Johnston cited an anti-corruption law, in place since 1924, that certain members of Congress can ask for the tax returns of anyone, including a president.
“Donald is saying, ‘I’m the president, I’m above the law,” Johnston said.
The panelists on Burnett’s show suggested several possibilities for Trump’s secrecy: His net worth is far less than he says. Money laundering. Tax evasion. The emoluments clause and whether the president is receiving money from foreign countries.
Trump seeks personal protection through people in his administration, Jack O’Connell, former Trump Plaza president, told Burnett. O’Connell summed up the president’s hiring approach as “ask not what I can do for my country, but what can I do for Trump.”
Many voters went for Trump because they wanted a businessman in charge. But Trump is president in an era of increased scrutiny of corporate giants such as Boeing, Facebook and CBS.
Trump had no government experience, the presidency is different from CEO, and the federal government draws more examination than corporations.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Jay Sekulow, Trump’s attorney, presented Trump’s side. “As the president’s counsel, we have the right to protect his interests as a private citizen and as president,” he told George Stephanopoulos.
Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday” that the issue over Trump’s tax returns “was already litigated during the election.”
But Trump doesn’t work just for the people who elected him. He serves everyone, many citizens have questions about his behavior, and congressional oversight of the executive branch continues long after an election. On “This Week,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, said Congress is looking at whether the IRS is properly auditing and enforcing tax law on the president.
“You have a president that not only has very significant wealth, but made the unusual decision to continue to control that wealth and not to have a blind trust — but to actually pass on to his family, with his full involvement, the ability to control his wealth,” Kildee said. “There’s a real question as to whether the president’s personal financial interests impact his public decision-making.”
The public has a right to know because he’s working for us.
Hal Boedeker covers television as well as local production for the Orlando Sentinel.