Our Opinion: Drop the excuses and show us the tax returns

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House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal's request for President Trump's tax returns has put the White House back on its heels. The reaction — ranging from stalling to belligerence — is typical of the administration whenever it is asked to come out of the shadows.

Rep. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat whose congressional district includes the Berkshires, has requested six years of Trump's personal and business taxes. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig released on Saturday, the congressman declared that the Treasury Department's objections to the release are without merit and he expects to receive the returns by the April 23 deadline.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose department oversees the IRS, insists that there are "complicated legal issues" regarding Rep. Neal's request but is yet to explain what those issues are. Chairman Neal counters that a 1924 law declaring that the IRS "shall furnish" any tax return "is unambiguous and raises no complicated legal issues."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, with her trademark condescension, said on Fox News Sunday that she doesn't think the congressional Democrats seeking the tax returns are "smart enough" to understand them. Her comments — with an added dose of Sanders snark — echo those of the previous Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. who declared that Democrats would "never" see the returns and to release them would establish a "dangerous precedent."

The dangerous precedent was actually established in 2016 when candidate Trump refused to release his tax returns. That broke a precedent established in 1969 of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns in the name of transparency. Unlike Mr. Trump, his prospective Democratic opponents evidently have nothing to hide. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts released her 2018 returns last week and over the weekend, California Attorney General Kamala Harris released 15 years of tax returns. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have all released their returns.

The president, of course, could end this controversy by dropping his repeated falsehood that tax returns under audit cannot be released and release them. Back when he was a leader of the racist "birther" movement claiming that President Obama was born in Kenya, Mr. Trump joined the other birthers in declaring that President Obama "show us the birth certificate." The Hawaii-born president did so, and while it didn't silence the bigots it certainly took the legs out of their false argument.

Along those same lines, the president can silence those who wonder if he is not as rich as he claims or he has complicated business ties to Russia by releasing his returns. Or can he?

Either way, Show us the tax returns!

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