Welcome to the second piece in the series that seeks to answer: Is the President of the United States using his office as a means to raise his profits?
Despite a lack of transparency on his own taxes, President Trump recently signed a new bill into law to “cut taxes.” When pressed, Trump (and his mouthpieces) assure the American public that he will not personally benefit from this new law. The defenders of the President point out that his finances do not matter to the American people. Any questions of impropriety are quickly dismissed by claims that partisans, “The Deep State” or “The Swamp” are waging political attacks against the trustworthy Trump. Besides, what about Hillary Clinton?
As a reminder, Trump’s been known to say or promise something that is later proven untrue or never materializes.
For instance, initially, then-candidate Trump did vow to release his tax information. Next, he would claim the disclosure would be made available after a government audit was complete. Finally, Trump’s narrative would morph into no disclosure would be necessary because–Americans do not care. Of course, polling data suggests otherwise. Mr. President the American people do care, and history proves why it matters.
Richard Nixon once famously said, “I’m not a crook.”
Although many people may be familiar with the statement, the context of Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” is often mistaken. A majority of Nixon’s infamous legacy tends to focus on his resignation as a result of the Watergate scandal. However, the Presidency of Nixon also faced significant questions and scrutiny to include Nixon’s personal taxes. Now, please enjoy a tale of the true origins of “I’m not a crook.”
Before the Nixon Presidency, it was not uncommon for those seeking the highest office in the land to not publicly disclose their personal tax information. But during Nixon’s second term, Nixon would begin to face a growing controversy surrounding his income taxes. Speculation and suspicion grew around Nixon’s personal finances. The primary source of discourse, centered around trying to determine if Nixon was using the Presidency for personal profit. Many were to wonder, was Nixon exerting presidential power over the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to avoid paying his taxes?
The topic of Nixon’s taxes would continue to be a focus of media outlets as they would spend months trying to piece together the truth on Nixon’s taxes but without the benefit of his official records. Then, as remains true today, Nixon did not have a mandate to release his personal tax records. Of course, Nixon had no desire to break this norm. Instead, he would use as a protective advantage in which could utilize ‘a deny and make it to the next day’ strategy.
Nixon’s tactics were effective because it was his word versus the “fake” news of his day. Lacking real numbers would allow Nixon and his supporters to challenge the media’s use of expert speculation. They could just chalk it up as a political witch hunt. However, it was only a matter of time before Nixon’s fortune (in more ways than one) would change.
In Nixon’s case, a “Deep State” employee (later to be traced back by the government to an IRS office in West Virginia) was so distraught by Nixon’s lies–the employee personally leaked the information. On October 4, 1973, The Providence Journal-Bulletin published the legitimate numbers from Nixon’s 1970 and 1971 tax returns revealing he had only paid $792.81 (in 1970) and $878.03 (in 1971). Nixon also received over $130,000 in refunds for the two-year period while earning over $200,000 in both 1970 and 1971.
According to an original 1973 report by The New York Times, Nixon’s taxes were:
“(A)bout the same tax as would have been paid by a family of three with an income between $7,500 and $7,550 in 1970 and a family of three with an income between $8,450 and $8,500 in 1971. In both years, families at these income levels were somewhat below the midpoint of income for all families in the nation.
Nixon, we have a problem.
Nixon would attempt to explain away his surfacing scandals, leading to his infamous meeting with the press. On November 17, 1973, The New York Times original report, would observe that during this meeting, Nixon “seemed composed and on top of the subject throughout the session, faltering perceptibly only during the discussion of his taxes.”
Furthermore, it was during this November 1973 media engagement that Nixon would claim to have “never profited from public service.” He would also add, “I’ve earned every cent. I’m not a crook.” That’s right, Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” statement pertained to his taxes and not Watergate.
In December 1973, due to growing pressure, Nixon would make his tax information public–even though his returns were under audit. In the end, it would be determined that Nixon was a crook and that he owed the U.S. government over $475,000 (that is 1970s dollars, today that would be around $2.5 million) in unpaid taxes. The end of Nixon’s Presidency would signify a change in American politics. The American populace seemingly lost their trust of their elected officials.
After Nixon’s resignation, Gerald Ford would assume the Presidency. Although President Ford did not release his full tax information, he did disclose a summary to the public. From the 1976 election onward, it became the standard for all major party candidates to submit proof to a weary public that they were not a would-be Nixon in waiting.
Nixon is the reason why tax disclosures matter.
The story of Richard Nixon serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when Presidential power and non-transparency are granted to unsavory actors. The refusal of transparency alone is enough to raise suspicion of President Trump’s rejection to release his tax records. Furthermore, the questions around President Trump’s finances are further compounded due to his refusal to divest from his businesses (which will also be the topic of the next series article).
President Trump, for American peace of mind, please take the following advice from Richard Nixon:
“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.”