Commentary: Aiming for Trump's Achilles' Heel
By David Cay Johnston
(Re-published from Newsday | May 15, 2019) Throughout his adult life, Donald Trump has escaped the consequences of his actions. Trump has run out the clock on several grand juries. Trials and audits showed he hid records. He has lied under oath, ratted out others, required associates to sign lifetime secrecy agreements and shielded his finances thanks to the secrecy and complexity of tax law.
Trump seems vulnerable to attack, like Achilles, the mythical Greek warrior whose mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx so he would be invulnerable. But Trump has an Achilles’ heel. A political arrow that strikes at Trump’s one vulnerable spot is flowing faster than the river Styx toward Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk.
Candidate Trump promised to make his tax returns public, but then reneged, claiming he is under audit. That made no sense because once you sign your tax return declaring it “true, accurate and complete,” disclosing the return only allows voters to see what you did.
Trump also will not produce an audit letter, an anodyne document that reveals nothing except the type of tax return and year or years under audit.
Now Trump is trying to block the chief tax writer in Congress from confidentially obtaining the last six years of his tax returns under a 1924 anticorruption law. It requires that any returns “shall be furnished upon written request.” The president has the same power, and both the White House and Congress exercise this law routinely.
Trump ordered Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to break the law, Section 6103 of the tax code, the first violation in the 95 years since enactment.
Mnuchin’s involvement suggests that Charles Rettig, the Beverly Hills tax lawyer who Trump named IRS commissioner, refused Trump’s order. That would have put Rettig’s California law license at risk, potentially ending his lucrative career.
In addition to forcing House Democrats to seek court orders to enforce the law, Trump sued his banks and accountants, hoping to block them from turning over financial and tax records ...
David Cay Johnston is a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law.