An anonymous federal employee is alleging that President Donald Trump has abused his executive authority in order to hide possible misconduct. Congress is now investigating.
Yes, it sounds like a story you've heard before—pretty much non-stop for the past week or so, actually—but this is a different whistleblower complaint alleging completely different presidential misconduct and being investigated by a different congressional committee. This one hasn't gotten as much attention as the allegations involving Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden's son because it lacks the foreign intrigue, Mafioso-style "favors," and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the 2020 presidential election.
And this whistleblower's allegations may suggest a more straightforward example of the president attempting to circumvent federal law.
On July 29, members of the House Ways and Means Committee "received an unsolicited communication from a Federal employee setting forth credible allegations of 'evidence of possible misconduct,'" wrote Rep. Richard Neal (D–Mass.), the committee chairman, in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on August 8. The letter's existence was reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday. In the letter, Neal wrote that the committee was informed of "inappropriate efforts to influence" a mandatory Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit of the president and Vice President Mike Pence.
"This is a grave charge that appreciably heightens the Committee's concerns about the absence of appropriate safeguards as part of the mandatory audit program and whether statutory codification of such program or other remedial, legislative measures are wan-anted," Neal wrote.
The important background here provided another in a growing number of parallels between the Trump administration and the Watergate era. Following Nixon's resignation, the IRS added a rule requiring that presidents and vice presidents have their tax returns audited every year. Having automatic audits of the commander in chief is mostly for the IRS's benefit so the agency doesn't appear to play political favorites by choosing which years to audit and which to ignore.
Of course, the audits haven't really mattered before—because, unlike Trump, every other post-Nixon president has released his tax returns publicly. If there was any misconduct to be found in the tax return, it would not escape notice. Trump has kept all his tax returns private, however, which means the mandatory IRS audits may be the only means of exposing key details like how much Trump is personally benefiting from the office he holds.
In the letter, Neal acknowledges that Charles Rettig, the IRS commissioner, has dismissed the allegations of "undue influence" being applied to Trump's audit as being "unfounded." But Neal says the allegations made to the committee by the IRS whistleblower "cast doubt" on that claim.
To be fair, IRS employees have engaged in nakedly partisan activities before, and any federal employee could have all manner of incentives to make allegations against Trump. From the scant details provided in Neal's letter, it's impossible to tell the extent of the whistleblower's complaint or the alleged misconduct.
However, because the whistleblower is concerned about the status of the IRS audit of the president, it seems likely that these "credible allegations" are directed towards Trump's tax returns since taking office. In other words, the issue doesn't seem to be some long-buried secret in Trump's old returns—which Congress is still trying to obtain—but rather an attempt to circumvent the mandatory IRS audit of Trump while he is a sitting president.
Regardless, Trump could put an end to the question of whether this is a legitimate allegation of wrongdoing or another "deep state" plot against his presidency by simply following the example of his predecessors and releasing his tax returns.