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Donald Trump HAZ A CONFUZ. He seems to think that House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal is asking to see his tax returns. That this is a polite request, which he and his lawyers will take under advisement and deign to answer if and when they see fit.

In fact, Chairman Neal will not be speaking to Trump's lawyers, because the president's personal attorneys have nothing to do with whether the IRS responds to Congress. Well, scratch that; it's not entirely true, since Trump made sure that one of his own lawyers became chief counsel for the IRS. See, between 2008 and 2012, Michael Desmond worked with Trump's longtime tax attorneys Sherri Dillon and William Nelson. During that time, Bloomberg reports that Desmond actually did work for the Trump Organization on "a discrete reporting matter for a subsidiary company that was resolved with no tax impact," which is law-talk for he managed to convince the IRS that the Trump organization had filed correctly and didn't owe additional tax or penalties. This looks like a potential conflict of interest from where we sit, since Desmond is now deciding IRS policy with regard to his own former client. But apparently ethics are like, so 2015, OMG.


Last night, the New York Times reported that the White House was so desperate to get Desmond installed as the IRS's top lawyer that Trump ordered Mitch McConnell to bring his nomination to the floor even before getting Bill Barr confirmed as Coverup Chief at the Justice Department:

President Trump earlier this year asked Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, to prioritize a confirmation vote for his nominee to be the chief counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, indicating that it was a higher priority than voting on the nomination of William P. Barr as attorney general, a person familiar with the conversation said.

And perhaps the White House was telling the truth that Desmond, who is by all reports a highly competent tax lawyer, was about to walk away from his 11-month-old nomination if he didn't get a vote. Or maybe they knew that Congressional Democrats were about to drop a demand for Trump's tax returns, and they wanted their guy on the ground at the IRS when the shit hit the fan -- Trump's little powwow with McConnell took place on February 5, when it was clear that it was a question of when, not if, Democrats demanded his returns.

As we've mentioned, there is no legal justification to withhold those returns. And without a political loyalist in the top job, the White House ran the very real risk that the acting-IRS chief counsel would pull a Sally Yates and refuse to carry out an order to stonewall a legitimate congressional demand. Particularly since Chairman Neal was so careful to couch his request in terms of Congress's oversight authority under the IRS regulation which mandates that presidential tax returns be audited every year -- in essence, he's performing an audit of the IRS's audit, not a fishing expedition in search of criminal behavior.

And speaking of audits, there seems to be some dispute as to whether Trump's returns are actually under audit as he claims. Sherri Dillon and William Nelson claim that "[his] personal tax returns have been under continuous examination by the Internal Revenue Service since 2002." She also claimed that the retainer agreement to reimburse Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment was "legally privileged," when in fact no such agreement ever existed. So there's that.

According to Michael Cohen, Trump was never under audit -- he just didn't want a bunch of tax experts all up in his shit.

But Michael Cohen is somewhat ... lacking in credibility.

As to whether Trump is actually under audit, or whether the White House had the forethought to develop A PLAN to fight the Democrats' demand for his tax returns, the jury's still out -- the guy steps on his dick daily, so take all reports of seven-dimensional chess with a huge grain of salt. But let's just say that it's highly suspicious, and if Desmond comes out next week saying the IRS can't possibly comply with a legitimate congressional request as mandated by the plain language of the statute because reasons, he may suffer a wee smidge of reputational damage for being a brazen hack. AND HE WILL DESERVE IT.

[NYT / Bloomberg]

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