Decision to release Trump’s tax returns fails smell test

The former president was within his legal right not to release his returns; Congress should change the law if it wants to require presidents to do so.

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Editorials

December 22, 2022 - 1:16 PM

The House Ways and Means Committee convenes on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 to discuss former President Donald Trump's tax returns and whether to release the information to the public. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee were so busy patting themselves on the back after Wednesday’s partisan vote to publicly release former President Donald Trump’s tax returns that they forgot one thing: explaining why this is legally necessary or proper. The vote wasn’t an attempt to uphold the law or demonstrate illegality but rather to satisfy the curiosity of millions of Americans who just want to view a billionaire ex-president’s tax returns.

It’s almost prurient, as if Congress has agreed to release tax porn for public viewing. Just because the committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, praised his colleagues for not being “punitive” or “malicious” doesn’t make their decision right. When reporters pressed members to explain why the release was necessary, they appeared to struggle for a legal justification. That’s probably because existing federal law doesn’t require prospective, sitting or former presidents to release their returns.

Such release is strictly voluntary, which all major-party candidates since the Nixon administration have done as a way of demonstrating they have nothing to hide. Trump chose not to. Any implication that he had something to hide was a political risk he was willing to take.

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