Donald, let’s make a deal.
On April 15, tens of thousands of Americans across the country will be taking to the streets to demand that you come clean and release your tax returns.
Why don’t you shock everyone and stop them, by releasing all your returns this week?
For 40 years, every presidential candidate — yes, even Tricky Dick Nixon — has released his or her tax returns. Even when it’s been politically inconvenient, every presidential nominee (except you) has acknowledged that they have an obligation to the American people to be transparent and open. Although President Gerald Ford didn’t release his full returns he at least provided a summary. In fact, Nixon famously released his returns because “the American people have got to know their president is not a crook.”
Do you believe the American people don’t deserve to know the same about you?
There’s a lot of questions that won’t go away until you release your taxes. On the campaign trail, you said you had “nothing to do with Russia,” but just last week, a Reuters investigation found that “at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida.” And your son Donald Trump Jr., once said that the Trump Organization businesses “see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” What’s the truth? We can’t rely on words anymore — the public deserves to see proof, and that includes your tax returns.
Last week’s summit with China was haunted by the fact that you are receiving money and benefits from the Chinese government, via Trump Towers and Trump Organization projects in China. Every trade and military decision you make regarding China has a question mark next to it — was it influenced by personal gain? Releasing your taxes will help answer that question too.
These potential and obvious conflicts of interest aren’t just run-of-the-mill political scandals — some are constitutional scandals. The Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause forbids any federal official — that includes you — from profiting off your office by receiving benefits from foreign governments. When one of your businesses profits from a foreign government, you have violated the Constitution and committed an impeachable offense. Your business ties in dozens of countries across the world and failure to divest from the Trump Organization are not only a threat to national security: They are a daily thumb in the nose to the Constitution.
And that’s just a few of the known unknowns; the unknown unknowns are potentially even bigger. With Congress preparing to rewrite the tax code, Americans have no way of knowing whether or not you’ll attempt to slash your own tax bill — while gutting critical funding for our schools and neighborhoods. In short, you could turn the federal government into your own personal ATM. Without reviewing your tax returns, there are potentially thousands of other conflicts of interest we just do not know about.
You claim that your connections to Russia are “fake news” and that your first priority is the best interests of the American public. Well, prove it. Here’s a modest proposal: if you’re sick of getting a hard time about your taxes, just release your returns from the past five years — and tens of thousands of activists won’t have a reason to march on tax day anymore. That’s right. Show us the returns and Americans won’t show up on April 15.
It’s that simple — unless you’re too cowardly to come clean.
Zephyr Teachout is a Fordham Law professor, political corruption expert and former New York gubernatorial candidate.