THE WASHINGTON POST OPINIONS
More than a dozen Republicans — from recognizable names like Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina to backbenchers like Representatives David Young of Iowa, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Ted Yoho of Florida, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Justin Amash of Michigan — have agreed that Mr. Trump should release his returns.
That list grows almost daily. On Monday, former Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois, a conservative firebrand and Trump loyalist, said the president should release his tax returns. “I do think this issue will come back and bite him on the butt,” he said on MSNBC.
No real courage is needed to arrive at this nearly inarguable proposition. After all, a large majority of Americans think President Trump should release his taxes and every president since Richard Nixon has done so. There is no justification for continuing to keep his returns secret –unless he really is hiding some deep, dark secret(s), the revelation of which would be even worse than attacks on his secrecy.
Unfortunately, the list of Republicans does not include Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), whose political ambitions do not seem limited to the Senate. On Monday, Cotton drew boos and guffaws at a town hall when in response to a request he ask Trump to release his taxes he said, “As far as I’m aware the president says he’s still under audit.” That’s just pathetic. We’ve never actually seen an audit letter from the IRS, and one suspects that his 2016 return couldn’t possibly yet be under audit. Moreover, even if Trump is under audit there is no legitimate reason not to release his returns, some years of which he concedes are no longer under audit.
Cotton wasn’t done apple-polishing. He also defended Trump’s continued retention of foreign holdings, which likely put him in violation of the emoluments clause. Cotton insisted, “Every federal officeholder, every candidate for office files a financial disclosure statement that shows your assets and your liabilities and second, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find out where Donald Trump has connections overseas. He normally puts his name on buildings where he has them.” That’s insulting voters’ intelligence. The issue is not what he owns but what he receives from foreign governments and their owned entities (e.g. banks). Moreover, we don’t know what other businesses, properties and income he has that aren’t from his eponymous hotels and resorts.
Cotton embarrasses himself when he carries Trump’s water like this. Cotton makes a mockery of his claimed fidelity to the Constitution and to separation of powers by acting as Trump’s spinner rather than a U.S. senator who has oversight responsibilities. Other Republicans have been stalwart enough to avoid enabling Trump’s secrecy and potential violation of the Constitution.
It’s not too late, however, for Cotton to redeem himself. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into the Russia scandal, he can push for full disclosure of Trump’s and Trump associates’ financial ties to Russia. How much have oligarchs paid for Trump properties? How did Donald Trump Jr. allegedly wind up getting “paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria”? Jared Kushner, who is due to testify before the Intelligence Committee about his meetings with Russian officials, should also come clean on his financial involvement with the Russians. Rather than play defense for Trump, Cotton should be a tough questioner and dogged investigator who supports use of the committee’s subpoena power.
Cotton’s ambition shouldn’t get the better of him. His constituents and Republicans more generally will not hold it against him if he does his job as prescribed by the Constitution. They might even respect him more, and might not hold him responsible for the corruption and conflicts-of-interest scandals that are likely in this administration.