Dan Simpson: Let's get clear on Trump's tax and Russia questions
February 22, 2017 12:00 AM
Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
An employee polishes traditional Russian wooden nesting dolls, Matryoshka dolls, depicting President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gift shop in central Moscow.
By Dan Simpson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Amid the large and small problems of the administration of President Donald J. Trump so far, there are two — his taxes and the role of Russia — that Americans mustn’t lose sight of in the dust of what could become the crumbling of the republic.
First of all, I want to state two important points that I accept and plan to stick to. The first is that Mr. Trump did, in fact, win the 2016 presidential elections. I find it absolutely pathetic that he feels it necessary to continue to insist on his victory. “I won. I won,” he said in his manic press conference Thursday.
The second point is that when I insist that the American people learn what the exact role of Russia was in our just completed presidential electoral campaign, my objective is not to undercut Mr. Trump’s victory. It is, instead, to seek to make known what role foreigners, their tactics and their money, play in our electoral campaigns. I don’t even know that Mr. Trump’s team was to blame for allowing the Russians to deal themselves into what is, in any case, a very corrupt game.
But I think we as a principled democratic people need to know what role foreigners are playing in choosing the people who govern us. And it isn’t just the Russians. What other countries are principled enough to keep out? China, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, India? We need to know.
Mr. Trump being required to make his tax returns available to the American people can be seen in two ways. The first is that we as a people need to know in order to have a better chance of figuring out what are the bases of the policies he will pursue as president. We need to be able to judge the wisdom or lack thereof in his proposed policies fully convinced that his motive in pursuing them is the public good, not personal gain. That is the very least Americans can expect of a president.
Pursuing a policy because it is likely to be popular with voters is not a disqualifier. That is perfectly normal for a politician. What isn’t, is if that politician expects to make money for himself from pursuing a policy as president. That is just plain out of bounds, and that is why we need to know how Mr. Trump makes and has made his money. Learning that could also cast light on his concept of relations with Russia, although that is not the point of seeing his tax returns.
It is perhaps necessary also to make the point that Mr. Trump should not fear Americans seeing his tax returns. He still won the elections and will remain in office, no matter what ghastly bits of information were to emerge as we had access to his 1040s.
Assume the worst. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin held a fundraiser for Mr. Trump in the Kremlin and sent him a check for $1 million. Mr. Putin’s Federal Security Services holds a photo of Mr. Trump committing an indecent act, and Mr. Trump sent him a fat check not to release the photo. Mr. Trump donated $1 million to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign so she would win and he wouldn’t have to wrestle with the problems of being America’s president. Mr. Trump tried to get a contract to build a beach hotel in the Crimea. Would any of that lead to Mr. Trump’s impeachment or otherwise acquired departure from office? I don’t think so at all.
So let’s just go ahead and continue to require (a) that Russia’s role in our elections be investigated credibly, and (b) that Mr. Trump’s tax returns be handed over promptly. If the IRS is auditing them, tell them to get off their deadened posteriors and make them available, now. Are the pre-2015 ones being audited too? That excuse is just silly.
The question of what benighted organ of the U.S. government would carry out an unbiased inquiry into the question of the Russian role in the 2016 elections is not as simple as it should be.
The FBI is ruled out because its director, the less-than-honorable James B. Comey, messed around in the elections on Mr. Trump’s side in October, just before the vote. For impartiality I wouldn’t trust him and his agency for a minute. The CIA couldn’t be trusted to carry out an impartial investigation because Mr. Trump has buffaloed half of them, and the rest of them hate Mr. Trump for having tried to discredit them. Congress, currently, in principle undertaking such investigations, is a bunch of owned partisans for the most part. Who could possibly have any confidence in the conclusions on such a sensitive topic drawn by the likes of that bunch?
So it probably means some kind of commission. But who gets to choose its members? Who in Washington, Hollywood or Middletown, Ohio, would one trust to, first, be able to dig out all the relevant information, and, second, give us an accurate, unbiased account of what actually happened? I am unwilling to conclude that there are no honest men or women left in the United States who could carry out such a mission; there probably are some. I think I would let each of the living ex-presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama choose one each and then let those people each choose one more.
We have to get foreigners out of our elections. Mr. Trump must not be allowed to think he doesn’t have to let us know what his financial entanglements are. 2016 was bad enough; future American elections have to be free of stain.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1976).
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