President Trump is attempting further distraction on the subject of his taxes, this time saying that “someone should look into who paid” for the more than 130 protest rallies around the country Saturday — including in Minnesota — that called for the release of his returns.
This isn’t the first time he’s accused protesters of being paid plants. It’s nonsense. First, you couldn’t pay Minnesotans enough to spend a picture-perfect early spring day on a protest rally. That kind of sacrifice requires a sense of outrage and frustration that has only mounted since the election, not diminished.
Second, and more important, there are legitimate reasons why a majority of Americans continue to say Trump should release his returns. They would answer critical questions about possible entanglements, conflicts of interest and, yes, whether the president would personally benefit from proposed tax changes. The returns would show Trump’s income from salaries, business investments and property rentals. His itemized deductions — including charitable donations — would be known, along with taxes paid here and to foreign governments. Information about foreign bank accounts would be disclosed.
For 40 years, Republican and Democratic presidents and nominees have voluntarily released their returns, with Gerald Ford being the only exception. Now we have a president determined to do no more than what the law compels. Well, every secretary in Trump’s Cabinet had to supply three years of tax returns before being confirmed. Should a weaker standard of disclosure be applied to a boss than to his subordinates? The time has come for Congress to require Trump to do what he apparently will not do of his own free will.
Trump’s lack of transparency has been compounded by a maddening level of arrogance. He has been promising to reveal his returns since 2011. In 2012, he actually scolded Mitt Romney for waiting too long to release his. He once offered to produce them if Obama produced his birth certificate. Obama did so. Trump? Not so much. Trump later offered Hillary Clinton the same deal, if only she would release her deleted e-mails.
Trump has resorted to an increasingly worn dodge: the perpetual audit he claims his returns are under. In case you were wondering, the White House says his 2016 returns are being audited, too. Never mind that nothing about that process prevents Trump from releasing his returns.
One tidbit that leaked out is disconcerting enough to drive the demand for more information. Partial returns from 1995 showed that Trump had enough business losses to likely avoid paying income taxes for 18 years.
The shamelessness of Trump’s continued refusals reached a new level Monday, when a reporter asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer whether it was time to simply say Trump was never going to release his taxes. True to the arrogant tease that has been employed before, Spicer said only, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Sorry, Mr. Spicer, that’s not good enough. Not nearly good enough.