Let’s Talk Presidential Taxes

April 5, 2019 10:19 a.m.

The Times had a story overnight about how President Trump pushed Mitch McConnell to fast track his nomination for the Chief Counsel of the IRS in the early months of this year, an obviously key position in any fight over securing the President’s taxes. What I was more interested in was the information a bit further down in the article that notes that Michael J. Desmond is actually a one time Trump tax lawyer and long time colleague of William Nelson and Sheri Dillon, Trump’s long time tax attorneys and the folks who put together his purported non-blind blind trust. Remember the press conference with the glued together stacks of papers?

In any case, Desmond is definitely the guy Trump would want making the key legal advisories in a fight over Trump’s taxes.

And then there’s this. The current IRS commissioner once wrote a column at Forbes saying Trump shouldn’t release his taxes. Clearly Trump has been very focused on stocking the IRS with people most inclined to do his bidding in any fight over his taxes, notwithstanding the Congress’s clear statutory right to get them.

Now here’s one other matter.

Yesterday on one of our Inside Briefings we spoke to a former longtime House staffer who has insight into the backstory of the House push to get Trump’s taxes. There’s been a lot of Democratic griping about just what is taking so long. And rightly so. We’re over three months in. Why couldn’t it have gone faster?

Our former senior staffer, still in touch with the relevant players, had this take on it. Yes, a substantial amount of the delay was characterological and small-c conservative. Rep. Neal is not an aggressive partisan. Ways and Means Chair is not a job that normally is one with any high profile investigative function. You work your way up into that job because you want to write tax policy. So some of it was just moving slowly because of the people involved. But not all of it.

Our source also made clear that a big part of the process was methodically working to build a strong legal argument about clear legislative/oversight need for the taxes. You can’t just say, I want the taxes. You have to show a clear need for them to do the work of the House. That may be obvious. But with Trump prepped to go to war over it you want the most solid legal argument and legislative record possible. And to be clear, this isn’t just coming up with a smart argument. It’s about creating a legislative record, creating a series of legislative facts that undergird the argument. A significant part of the delay seems to have been that — taking time to make the probable future legal case as strong as possible. That was largely quarterbacked by the General Counsel of the House, Douglas N. Letter.

Letter has a very strong reputation. Until early 2018 he was Director of the Civil Division Appellate Staff at DOJ. So Pelosi also carefully put her players in place with a view toward high stakes legal fights.

As it was expressed to us, Letter knows how to make the House’s legal case as strong as possible. And while a number of people were frustrated with how long the process was taking, no one wanted to be the one who overruled his pace and then saw the whole effort go south because the House hadn’t put the best legal case forward.

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