Speaking on ABC News’ Sunday morning show This Week, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway finally admitted what had been plainly obvious to anyone paying attention — Donald Trump is never going to voluntarily release his tax returns, so the American people will never know who he is in debt to, whose payroll he is on, or how he is personally benefitting from the policy decisions he makes as president of the United States.
Her rationale for this unprecedented breach of norms is that “we litigated this all through the election” and “people didn't care.”
"He's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care," Kellyanne Conway says on ABC.— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 22, 2017
This is, however, not true on several levels.
First all, the results of an election in which Trump finished 2 percentage points behind his main opponent certainly don’t support the view that “people didn’t care” about his opponent’s criticisms of her. Second, polls show that a clear majority of the public thinks he should release his tax returns.
Last but by no means least, this isn’t even the issue that was litigated during the election. What was litigated during the election was Trump’s claim that he would release his tax returns in the future, but couldn’t do so yet because they were under audit by the IRS. This was always a fairly transparent lie, but Conway herself used to get quite indignant at people who suggested the Trump campaign wasn’t being on the level.
Here she was in September:
CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked Kellyanne Conway on "New Day," "Will Donald Trump release anything from the IRS proving that he's under audit?"
"I'm sorry," Conway said, as Camerota repeated her question. "Are you calling him a liar?"
Conway continued, "Seriously, we're running against a Clinton, and we're going to challenge someone's veracity?"
The sharp exchange came as Conway pushed back against criticism of Trump for his ongoing refusal to release his tax returns, a disclosure made by every presidential candidate for over 40 years.
Conway repeated the campaign's talking point — that Trump's lawyers have advised him not to release his tax returns while an audit is being conducted, despite assurances from outside tax experts who have said no such conflict exists — and declined to say whether any more information would be forthcoming.
The most striking players in this drama, however, are neither Conway nor the media nor the American public, but the people who actually have the ability to make Trump do financial disclosure: congressional Republicans.
Trump is pretty clearly hiding something damning in his tax returns. I don’t know what it is, and most likely neither does Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan or anyone in their caucuses. Like most people, I am curious what it is. And I bet McConnell and Ryan and rank-and-file Republican Party members are curious too.
But they’ve all reached the conclusion that whatever damning information it is that Trump is hiding, it’s important enough to Trump to not be worth crossing him over but not so important that the American people should see what it is. I’m not sure what kind of fact that could be. But since it seems that we are never going to figure out what it is — and that the reason we’re not going to figure it out has nothing to do with this alleged audit — I sure hope they’re right that the underlying substance isn’t that bad.