The “controversy” surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate was fueled by racist conspiracy theories which Donald Trump personally propelled. The ongoing concern about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, by contrast, is fueled by legitimate concerns that Trump’s presidency is compromised—perhaps dangerously so—by conflicts of interest pertaining to international affairs, domestic tax reform, and other issues.
The two aren’t equivalent. But during a town hall on Monday, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) tried to make them so.
In February, Denham joined 228 other House Republicans to vote down a Democratic effort to force Trump to release his returns. When the topic came up during the town hall in Denair, Denham replied by saying he’s “not going to ask the previous president that I served under to show his birth certificate any more than I would ask this president to show his taxes.”
Denham went on to reference the single year of Trump’s returns that was recently leaked, and said, “it appeared he paid more in taxes than any of the previous presidents.” But Denham’s comment overlooks that Trump has sought to repeal the only part of the tax code that required him to pay any income taxes at all in 2005 — the individual alternative minimum tax, or AMT.
It is precisely those conflicts of interest that those who want Trump to release his tax returns seek to shed light on.
Denham’s comments also overlook that Trump repeatedly promised he’d eventually release his tax returns during the campaign. But earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer signaled Trump may never release his returns after all, telling a reporter “we’ll have to get back to you on that” in response to a question about whether Trump will ever disclose them.
Denham wasn’t the only Republican member of Congress to take heat for defending Trump’s tax obfuscation during a town hall on Monday. In Arkansas, Sen. Tom Cotton was raucously booed for doing the same.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are signaling that unless they’re privy to the information about Trump’s conflicts of interests that his returns would provide, they won’t support Republican efforts to reform the tax code.