“Donald Trump is not willing to give up his tax returns,” Welch told about two dozen people at a Congress in Your Community event Tuesday afternoon on the Vermont Law School campus.
“He’s had plenty of opportunity to do it,” Welch said. “The question of him not showing his tax returns is really about whether we are going to maintain a culture of transparency in the government.”
Presidents for the past four decades, according to Welch, have disclosed tax return information to the public. No law requires they do so, but it has become custom.
“His tax returns should be in the public domain,” Welch said of Trump. “I think to some extent he is getting away with (not disclosing his tax returns) because a lot of his supporters see it as nitpicking and just another example of political correctness that a lot of people, from their perspective, were fed up with.”
Trump, the congressman said, may not want to disclose his tax returns due to concern they may reveal business dealings in Russia, or for fear of revealing how much, or how little, he paid in taxes.
“Do you think Trump really knows what’s in his tax return, or is he just trying to defend himself by not having to explain a lot of stuff he doesn’t know anything about?” one person asked. “When you have a tax return as large as his, you usually have a whole team of people that figure it out.”
“Trump knows — he knows what he’s doing,” Welch replied. “He may not know every detail on every line, I’m sure, but he knows what the bottom line is. And, he, I’m sure, has spoken with his accountants and tax advisers and they made self-conscious decisions about how to set up his enterprise and minimize his taxes.”
According to The New York Times, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump remained under audit and his tax returns would not be released to the public.
Spicer added, “I think the president’s view on this has been very clear from the campaign, and the American people understood it when they elected him in November.”
Welch said it’s likely that any savings Trump achieved on his returns were “totally” legal.
“We do need tax reform,” Welch said, “but part of the tax reform is that you shouldn’t be able to avoid taxes by legal loopholes.”
Asked by someone else in the crowd what loopholes those may have been, he said he wasn’t sure.
“We got tax lawyers here,” Welch added, referring to a crowd that included several law school students, faculty and administrators.
Another person wanted to know if it was possible, and even likely, that Congress would pass a law requiring presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns.
“We’ve got a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and we’ve got a Republican president, so it’s not going to happen,” Welch responded.
In addition to taxes and tax returns, Welch spoke and answered questions about health care and immigration reform, the economy and the future of the Democratic Party.
He said mechanization and technology have created an economy in the country that relies on fewer American workers. “That’s a big challenge for us, and we’ve got to talk more honestly about that,” he said.
Responding to a question about the role academics play in the political debate, Welch said, “Ideas matter, but they don’t persuade.”
He said it’s most important to hear from people on opposite sides of issues, then try to find common ground.
“In politics, listening is more important than talking — I actually believe that. People have to have a sense that you want to know their experience, that you have an interest in them,” he said. “Then you can talk about a way forward.”
On immigration, Welch said that in meetings he has had with farmers from around Vermont one of their biggest concerns was finding people to keep the operations running if unauthorized immigrant workers they rely on are deported.
He said farmers told him they can’t find Vermonters to take the jobs they need filled.
“If (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) went and did a wholesale roundup, we wouldn’t be milking our cows,” he added.