U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he’s calling upon all of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees to release their tax returns to the Congressional committees that will oversee their nominations.
Blumenthal’s request comes after his Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate made a similar request last week. Following that request, the Trump transition team — in a memo obtained by The Associated Press — called it a “PR stunt with zero precedent designed to arm opposition researchers.”
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano agreed. “There’s no question that Dick Blumenthal likes to create news where there is none,” Romano said.
But Blumenthal argued at a Legislative Office Building press conference in Hartford that the nominees to cabinet posts are all very successful. They are millionaires and in at least three cases they are billionaires. Some of them have ties to special interests and foreign governments, according to Blumenthal.
“The president-elect promised that he would drain the swamp. That he would increase the credibility and trust of the United States government,” Blumenthal said. “The best way to ensure greater credibility and trust for his cabinet is to require full disclosure of their tax returns.”
Blumenthal said already several of the committees require tax returns. The Senate committees on Budget, Finance and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs require nominees to submit their tax returns.
Blumenthal said he’s presuming the nominees have nothing to hide and should be more than willing to provide tax returns, even if it’s not mandated.
Disclosure of tax returns derailed at least two of President Barack Obama’s nominees back in 2009. Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration for secretary of health and human services when it was disclosed that he failed to pay $128,000 in taxes for using a friend’s chauffeur or car service. Nancy Killefer, who was nominated that year to be chief White House performance officer, also pulled her name from consideration because of unpaid payroll taxes for a household employee.
Beyond cabinet positions, Blumenthal is hoping to encourage Trump himself to release his tax returns.
Trump is the first major party candidate in decades not to release his tax returns before being elected. That decision has legal experts debating whether his business dealings, especially those involving foreign governments, may violate the Emolument Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The clause states that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
Quinnipiac University Constitutional Law Professor William Dunlap said it’s pretty clear, but not absolutely clear that the Emolument Clause applies to the president of the United States.
Dunlap said he believes the Emolument Clause does apply to Trump and his business dealings, but admits there are arguments that can be made against its application.
He said the arguments that the Emolument Clause does not apply to Trump are primarily historical. For instance, George Washington took some gifts from France, so he did not feel he was bound by the clause and Alexander Hamilton, as secretary of the treasury, was asked to compile a list of all the officers of the United States and their salaries. The 90-page list did not include the president, the vice president or members of Congress, eliminating elected officials from the list, Dunlap said.
Dunlap said he thinks the strongest evidence that the clause applies to the president is the plain language of the constitution.
Blumenthal said Republican lawmakers have not dismissed Democratic calls for greater disclosure.
“We all know that far too often special interests get their way in Washington,” Blumenthal said. “The best way to stop special interests, or big corporations from getting their way is to require more disclosure. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Blumenthal said he’s not asking for the tax returns to be made public, but they should be disclosed to the Congressional committees conducting the confirmation hearings.