In early March, Nick Kristof at the New York Times solicited a felony in a tweet by virtually begging someone at the Internal Revenue Service to leak Donald Trump's tax returns. On Monday, Chris Matthews was more interested in settling the supposedly questionable matter of whether Trump's prior returns are under audit, but he went down the same path. During his Hardball broadcast, he effectively wished the IRS would leak the answer, and appeared to be supporting such lawbreaking when he said, "That would be a good leak."
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Kristof at the Times even provided the paper's physical address as a convenience to potential IRS leakers to show that he was serious.
Matthews's seriousness was fairly clear in the early portion of the following video segment, and dissipated a bit as the panel discussion continued. On balance, though, there's no doubt that he believes an IRS leak of Trump's tax information would be a pretty useful thing — because he said so:
Transcript (HT Mark Finkelstein at Legal Insurrection; bolds are mine throughout this post):
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: And we know there’s no audit. Can’t the IRS — they claim the IRS —can’t the IRS just make a statement: "He’s not under audit"? Just make the announcement! Somebody, by the way, that would be a good leak. Somebody from the IRS just leaking.
HOWARD FINEMAN: People have been inviting the IRS people to do that for months now.
MATTHEWS: Have they?
FINEMAN: And to their credit, so far they haven’t.
PERRY BACON: And there's no consequences —
MATTHEWS: I thought they were all liberals over there. Why doesn’t somebody leak it?
FINEMAN: They might actually believe in, they might actually believe in the ethics of their job.
MATTHEWS: They’re listening, Howard. And they’re so taken with you.
FINEMAN: It's tax day. Leave me alone.
Well, they may be "all liberals over there" at the IRS. Additionally, as Perry Bacon might have been on the verge of asserting, no one at the IRS appears to have suffered any serious consequences for previous leaks like the one of the donors to the National Organization for Marriage, or for singling out Tea Party, patriot and conservative not-for-profit applications for tough scrutiny while letting other sail through.
But there is this small matter of what the law says, as Legal Insurrection's Finkelstein noted — and perhaps, with a new administration, there might actually be interest in enforcing it (link is in original):
Pursuant to 26 US Code Sec. 7213, disclosing an individual’s return information, which would presumably include the audit status of a return, is “a felony punishable upon conviction by a fine in any amount not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both.”
The last leak in mid-March, wherever it came from, went so well for the people pushing for law-breaking leaks:
- It showed that in 2005, Trump had $150 million in taxable income.
- It showed that he paid $38 million in taxes.
- It showed that in that year, Trump's effective tax rate was 25 percent, higher than Barack Obama's most recent return's 18.7 percent and Bernie Sanders' 13.5 percent.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.