Opposing Russian aggression was obviously important to Congressman Tom Reed during his campaign against John Plumb. Take a look at the following Facebook posts. (Clicking on the images will bring you to the original posts).
Reed's staunch anti-Russian credentials made it surprising to see him become one of Donald Trump's earliest endorsers and one of his most important advocates in New York State. Trump rewarded Reed's support by appointing him as a vice chair in his transition team.
Evidence is quickly mounting that the Trump campaign MAY have colluded with the Russians to steal the elections. There is no question that Russia helped President Trump win the election. There is no question that Trump has lied about how well he knows Putin. New evidence comes out almost every day pointing to questionable ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. British spy Christopher Steele wrote a controversial dossier which claimed Trump associates colluded with the Kremlin to use Russian cyberattacks against the Democrats to destroy Clinton’s campaign. The dossier also alleged that Russia had salacious material which it could use to blackmail Trump. These accusations have not been proven, but other details discussed in the dossier have checked out. Steele’s credibility in the intelligence community is so high that the FBI once planned to pay him to continue his work.
I am sure that Congressman Reed wants to help Trump dispel these suspicions. One way to lift this cloud would be for Trump to release his taxes. But Trump refuses to do this because he is shy and does not want to be seen ostentatiously proving how wealthy he is. He needs some outside encouragement so people won't think he is trying to flaunt his wealth by releasing his returns.
Fortunately, there is a way around Trump's dilemma. Congressman Bill Pascrell discovered a section of tax law that would have allowed the House Ways and Means Committee to order the Treasury department to submit Trump’s tax return to the Committee. Pascrell wants to see those tax returns to assess how extensively Trump's businesses violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. (Read this for a background on the Emoluments Clause) Reed and his fellow Republicans voted to keep Trump's tax returns hidden by blocking Pascrell's attempt to invoke this law. Reed explained why by saying, "That is a tremendous amount of power, for the government to come after one individual" and make public their tax returns.
Reed does have a point. If the government can reveal Trump's taxes, what can prevent it from revealing ours? Here are two reasons.
1) Invoking 26 U.S. Code § 6103 (f)(1) would only make the returns available to the committee in closed executive session. The returns would only become public if the Ways and Means Committee voted to make it public. Presumably, the Committee would only take this step if Trump's tax returns provide evidence of serious violations of the Emoluments Clause or other criminal behavior.
2) Herb Jackson, Washington Reporter for NorthJersey.com reported that this law was invoked in 1974 when Congress examined Nixon's tax returns during Watergate. Jackson also reports that it was invoked "in 2014 when the Ways and Means Committee released confidential tax information as part of its investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's handling of applications for nonprofit status." (Though confidential tax information was released publicly, I do not think it included actual tax returns). As far as I have been able to determine, the only time the law has been invoked was during these two extraordinary circumstances. This proves that the law has already been invoked without opening the floodgates for Congress to make our taxes public. Surely, helping Trump prove his innocence is an extraordinary circumstance, and the Ways and Means Committee can invoke this rule without jeopardizing the rest of us.
IF (big IF) invoking this law would jeopardize the rest of us taxpayers, then refusal to invoke this law does not guarantee our safety in the future. Refusing to examine Trump's taxes would not set a binding precedent that would protect our tax returns from future Congressional investigation. Clearly, when this tax code was passed in 1924 Congress intended for it to be invoked under some circumstances. If Congress wants to guarantee this law will never be invoked then it must repeal this law. I do not know if Reed and his fellow Republicans have tried to repeal this section of the law, but they need to explain why if they haven't. Is it possible they want to keep it on the books in case, say, a Democrat with a questionable financial background becomes president? Remember, if the only reason the Republicans are blocking the use of this law is to protect taxpayers in the future then they can invoke the law to examine Trump's tax returns and then vote to repeal it.
So Tom Reed can now rejoice! He can ask Congress to help clear Trump's name by examining his tax returns without jeopardizing the rest of us. If Reed refuses to take this opportunity then he should justify his reasoning to both Donald Trump and us. If he doesn't justify his reasoning then Trump might become mad at him for refusing to help him clear his name and some nasty liberals might get the absurd idea that Reed is part of a cover-up.
Update 3/9/17: Here is Congressman Pascrell's letter requesting Trump's tax returns for review by the House Ways and Means Committe. This Washington Post story discusses why the Ways and Means Committee decided to release Nixon's tax information.