Some say that Donald Trump lacks principles, but that’s unfair. If there’s one precept that guides him it is that Jimmy Hoffa’s body will see the light of the day before Trump’s tax returns do.
Last week’s decision by a federal judge rejecting Trump’s bid to block the Treasury Department from turning his tax returns over to the House Ways and Means Committee was unsurprising in all but one respect. Faced with a law providing that the Department “shall” furnish the returns if requested by the Committee, Trump’s lawyers threw everything, including the kitchen sink, against the wall, hoping that some argument — any argument — would stick. For example: Congress was politically motivated, Congress had overstepped its subpoena power, Congress lacked a valid legislative purpose — all of these arguments were trotted out, along with the argument that the moon wasn’t in the Seventh House and Jupiter wasn’t aligned with Mars.
The judge wasn’t buying any of them, and issued a lengthy, meticulous decision explaining why, as he put it, Trump was “wrong on the law.” The surprise: The judge, Trevor McFadden, is a Trump appointee. By placing the rule of law over politics and whatever residual appreciation he feels to the man who put him on the bench, McFadden made clear that he was adhering to “a faithful application of binding (judicial) precedent,” not partisanship.
Trump will doubtless appeal the decision until the end of time. His strategy is to keep the appellate process going until the 2022 midterms, when the Republicans will likely retake the House, and the Committee’s request for Trump’s tax returns will be withdrawn faster than you can say “tax evasion.” But whatever the ultimate outcome, the ruling represented a welcome statement that not everyone associated with The Donald lacked a moral compass. And it came during a week in which the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol was shedding considerable light on the confederacy of American neo-fascists, democracy-subverters and dunces who worked overtime to stage a coup d’etat.
Some of those who schemed with Trump to overturn the election that Joe Biden won in order to keep Trump in power seem unenthusiastic about assisting in the light-shedding. Steve Bannon, the Trump strategist who was indicted for embezzling money before being pardoned by Trump, blew off the Committee’s subpoena. He has been indicted for contempt of Congress. Former chief of staff Mark Meadows delivered a trove of documents appearing to show that various Republican Congressmen and staffers were part of the festivities, and then joined Bannon in lifting his middle finger to the Committee. The House has referred him to the Justice Department for indictment.
Then there are the Trump stalwarts who refused to answer the Committee’s questions about Jan. 6 on the grounds that doing so would tend to incriminate them.
John Eastman, the attorney who pushed a plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to block the constitutionally mandated certification of the election results, is one. Another is Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official who tried to con his colleagues into backing Trump’s efforts to steal the election. Then there is Roger Stone who, let’s face it, should never, ever answer any questions under oath on any subject, including parking violations. Stone, convicted in 2019 of lying to Congress, claims “I had no advance knowledge of the events that took place at the Capitol.” It’s just that if he told the truth about that, he is afraid he might go to jail.
None of this has left our 45th president in good spirits. “The January 6 Unselect Committee,” he said in a characteristically clever statement on Saturday night, “is a cover-up for what took place on November 3 and the people of our Country won’t stand for it!” But it’s not looking as though it is the Committee that is the one with anything to cover up.
Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.