Congressional Republicans want you to know they didn’t approve of the bizarre and surreal press conference President Trump held with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, the one that resembled a hostage video crossed with Monty Python. One after another, they have stepped forward to defend the work of U.S. intelligence services and decry Trump’s seeming subservience to Putin. “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) thundered in a typical statement.
Don’t be fooled. If they were serious, congressional Republicans would be either calling on Trump to release his tax returns or making the returns public themselves. So far, they are doing neither. And make no mistake, they’ve got that power. As I wrote in December:
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, or the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation can request to confidentially see the president — or for that matter, anyone’s — tax returns. That means Rep. Kevin Brady or Sen. Orrin Hatch could check into this for all of us. They could then share the results with their committee in a closed session. Or congressional Republicans could vote to release the returns to the full House or Senate, which would basically be another way to make the returns public.
If you are wondering, Hatch released a statement on Monday backing U.S. intelligence agencies. (Talk about lowering the bar for tough talk.) Brady and several other Republican House members met with Trump on Tuesday to discuss a further round of tax cut legislation. If the president’s tax returns came up in the meeting, no one is saying.
Trump’s IRS filings would almost certainly make for a fascinating study. Recent developments suggest he may be under increasing financial pressure. The Post reported Wednesday that the Trump Organization began missing deadlines on property tax bills last year, after formerly paying them on schedule. Last month, New York state filed a lawsuit alleging Trump used his private charitable foundation for his own benefit.
Of course, this is not the first time Trump has entered strange waters financially. His businesses have filed for corporate bankruptcy six times. As far back as the early 1980s, credible allegations surfaced tying his businesses to organized crime. As The Post reported in May, Trump, who spent his entire business career acquiring real estate with other people’s money, suddenly in 2006 went on an all-cash buying spree, ultimately purchasing $400 million worth of property. He has never offered a credible explanation for the change in strategy. (Son Eric claimed to The Post that the Trump Organization was at the time flush from cash flow on everything from licensing to rents.) A Reuters investigation found dozens of members of the Russian elite spent almost $100 million on Trump-branded towers in South Florida alone. Last week, a Financial Times investigation revealed Russian money backed the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. Then there is my personal favorite, via Post columnist David Ignatius:
Trump also had a personal infusion of Russian cash in the liquidity-starved 2008 market. That year he sold for a handsome $95 million a Palm Beach waterfront mansion he bought at auction in 2004 for just $41.35 million — more than doubling his money at a time when much of the South Florida market was underwater. The buyer was Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev.
While Trump and his associates have denied all accusations of impropriety, Trump’s sons publicly admitted that Russian funds were a vital part of the Trump Organization’s business model. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russian,” Donald Trump Jr. told the crowd at a 2008 New York City real estate conference. Eric Trump reportedly said something similar in a private 2014 conversation. If even a sliver of these investments are legally questionable, all Putin needs to hold influence over Trump is a half-decent accountant.
More than two-thirds of American voters want to see Trump’s tax returns, according to a recent Quinnipac poll. More than half believe the reason he’s refusing to release them is because “he has something to hide.” Like with most political questions in the United States, however, the results are starkly divided by political allegiance. While 9 out of 10 Democrats wanted to his tax filings to be made public, only 3 out of 10 Republicans agreed it was necessary or desirable. That probably explains why congressional Republicans continue to enable Trump’s wish to keep his tax returns hidden, no matter the cost to the country.