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HAIL MARY

Trump Prays His Judges Will Keep Tax Returns Secret

Desperate to hide his finances from the American people and with no legal ground to stand on as the truth closes in, the president throws up a legal Hail Mary.

David Cay Johnston4.23.19 5:06 AM ET

Donald Trump switched to full panic mode on Monday, afraid that the whole truth about his finances and conduct will come out. He is openly declaring he is above the law, in a way that should make us laugh if not for fear that the judges he’s peppered the federal bench with could find a way to hold their noses and swallow his noxious argument.

Trump is suing to block release of his tax returns to the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He also sued his accountants at Mazars, which prepared his returns for the six years that the committee has subpoenaed, to block them from complying with the subpoena.

“The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump. Subpoenas are their weapon of choice,” reads the opening line of his complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Trump’s complaint goes on to assert that Congress has no power to investigate him for anything he declares to be his conduct as a private citizen. This sounds like what you might hear from a random drunk in a bar.

But this is the sitting president of the United States arguing that the “subpoena is an attempt to investigate and adjudicate possible violations of federal law by private individuals—law-enforcement powers that only the executive and judicial branches can exercise.”

Tell that to the late Roy Cohn, who ran the 1950s communist witch hunts for Senator Joseph McCarthy before he became a Mafia consigliere and not just lawyer to Trump, but someone the Donald called his “second father.”

Accepting Trump’s theory would mean that he can block any inquiry into “possible violations of federal law” by himself. That’s the kind of self-preserving power held by the lawless rulers Trump says he admires—Duterte, Erdogan, Kim, Putin and Xi.

As I’ve long said, Trump has no idea what is in our Constitution. This lawsuit is proof. The reason that his lawyers, who took required courses on our Constitution to qualify for their law degrees, signed on to this is a mystery. Whatever the answer, it is worth considering whether their licenses to practice law should be revoked for ignorance.

Trump asserts that “Chairman Cummings has ignored the constitutional limits on Congress’ power to investigate.”

His suit goes on:

“Article I of the Constitution does not contain an ‘Investigations Clause’ or an ‘Oversight Clause.’ It gives Congress the power to enact certain legislation. Accordingly, investigations are legitimate only insofar as they further some legitimate legislative purpose. No investigation can be an end in itself. And Congress cannot use investigations to exercise powers that the Constitution assigns to the executive or judicial branch.”

Trump is saying, in effect, let’s ignore the oversight function of Congress, such as examining whether our constitutional executive, currently Trump, is faithfully executing the duties of his office. He’s not, so of course he wants no oversight.

On the legislation front there is a scintilla of truth in Trump’s claim, but that’s all. For more than a century, the federal courts have held that Congress can’t just willy-nilly dig into people’s private lives for no reason.

The problem for Trump is that he has given Congress abundant reasons to investigate his finances and his tax returns.

One reason is to see if Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause that bars him from getting money from foreign powers or state governments, which we know for a fact that he is.

Another reason is found in one of the plaintiffs. It’s not just Trump, using his official government address, who is suing. The plaintiffs include the Trump Organization, now run by what I call his “eyes wide open blind trust,” and the Trump company that runs the hotel in the Old Post Office just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

That hotel that has become a popular place with those seeking favors from this White House. Its bar, restaurant and rooms are packed with agents of foreign governments, industries, specific businesses and individuals who profit by arranging official Trump favors.

Chairman Cummings dismissed the president’s suit as baseless. That goes to what a polite politician he is.

The president, of course, doesn’t have that problem. Don’t miss that Trump and his lawyers gratuitously mis-rendered the name of the political party he claims is out to get him, the Democratic Party.

Trump has one hope in this lawsuit—that he gets federal judges who will ignore the law, the separation of powers, and the duty of Congress to oversee the Executive and to inquire into corruption. One in nine serving federal judges is a Trump appointee, which makes playing judicial roulette a game with possibilities.

But that is true only if the judges Trump appointed and confirmed by Senate Republicans care not a whit about their oath of office, separation of powers under our Constituton, the rule of law and the welfare of our republic—if they are, as in Trump’s own phrase—merely so-called judges.

If our federal judges, unlike our president, put their duty to our Constitution first, we can afford to laugh at this suit. If not, his campaign rally musings about staying on after two terms are anything but a laughing matter.

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