Secrecy News

Demolishing and Creating Norms of Disclosure

By refusing to disclose his tax returns, President Trump has breached — and may have demolished — the longstanding norm under which sitting presidents and presidential candidates are expected to voluntarily disclose their federal tax returns. At the same time, there is reason to think that new norms of disclosure can be created.

The conditions under which Congress could legally obtain President Trump’s federal tax returns were reviewed in a new assessment from the Congressional Research Service.

CRS “analyzes the ability of a congressional committee to obtain the President’s tax returns under provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC); whether the President or the Treasury Secretary might have a legal basis for denying a committee request for the returns; and, if a committee successfully acquires the returns, whether those returns legally could be disclosed to the public.” See Congressional Access to the President’s Federal Tax Returns, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 15, 2019.

Against this backdrop of defiant presidential secrecy, it is interesting to note that the Department of Defense yesterday disclosed the amount of its FY2020 request for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP), as it has now done for several years. This is a practice that was adopted for the first time by the Obama Administration, even though no law or regulation required it. To the contrary, it had previously been considered classified information. (Disclosure of the budget request for the National Intelligence Program, which also occurred yesterday, has been required by statute since 2010.)

Today, disclosure of the MIP budget request and other intelligence budget information is such a regular event that it is taken for granted. It is one of several new milestones in disclosure of national security information that were achieved in the Obama years, many of which survive to the present.

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Some other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements, updated March 18, 2019

Direct Overt U.S. Aid Appropriations for and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2020, updated March 12, 2019

Nord Stream 2: A Fait Accompli?, CRS In Focus, March 18, 2019

U.S. Global Health Assistance: FY2017-FY2020 Request, CRS In Focus, updated March 14, 2019

Low Interest Rates, Part III: Potential Causes, CRS Insight, March 15, 2019

Farm Debt and Chapter 12 Bankruptcy Eligibility, CRS Insight, March 15, 2019

Huawei v. United States: The Bill of Attainder Clause and Huawei’s Lawsuit Against the United States, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 14, 2019

Special Counsels, Independent Counsels, and Special Prosecutors: Legal Authority and Limitations on Independent Executive Investigations, updated March 13, 2019