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Jen Boynton headshot

Yesterday's Tax Document Leak Covered Up a Sinister Executive Order

By Jen Boynton

Yesterday, when media outlets were salivating over the potential contents of Trump's 2005 tax return, the White House was focused on its most alarming executive order yet.

The Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch asks the head of every agency to submit an efficiency plan that justifies its very existence (or doesn't). Suddenly, crazy steps like appointing a climate change denier to head the EPA and a public school critic to head the Department of Education make a dangerous amount of sense. Unfortunately for those of us who value clean air, clean water, and social services like public education, food safety, and a minimum wage, the offices that protect these community assets are now themselves very vulnerable.

The Executive Order touches every agency that provides social services at the federal level: the EPA, USDA, Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, HUD, Department of the Interior, DOJ, Department of Labor, Secretary of State's office, Department of Transportation, Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security. It directs the heads of these offices to:

propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies.... the head of each agency shall submit to the Director a proposed plan to reorganize the agency.

The executive order goes further. Six months after these plans are submitted, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, is to submit recommendations to the President "to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies.  The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions."

Yikes! Government functions like the Department of Transportation's regulation of fleet fuel efficiency and FDA's pharmaceutical approval process are now at risk of being eliminated entirely. While this is a wet dream for hardcore libertarians who favor a small government, those who value the support structure a shared government provides should understand the dystopian implications of a world without regulation.

Indeed, the executive order points to the free market as a possible replacement for these necessary government functions. In drafting these recommendations, directors should consider "whether some or all of the functions of an agency, a component, or a program are appropriate for the Federal Government or would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise."

While there is a role for the corporate sector in innovating solutions to the world's largest problems, the corporate sector requires an even playing field in which to innovate. For example, oil companies will only work against climate change if it saves them money in the short or long term. Government regulations in the form or a carbon tax or cap and trade are the fastest way to get them there. Given the urgency of climate change, strong regulations, such as those agreed to at COP 21 in Paris, are required to solve this problem which transcends national borders.

Surely there are many Americans who support small government, just look at the House Freedom Caucus. If this effort to reduce the size of government in a large sweep is good news, why is everyone tweeting about Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns?

Spoiler alert: The big reveal was a two page copy of Trump's 2005 1040 form, showing he'd paid almost $38 million in taxes that year. Hmmmm.

All arrows point to a Trump camp leak

Almost as soon as Rachel Maddow announced that she had a leaked copy of Trump's tax return, rumors began flying that the leak came from the Trump camp itself. The evidence is compelling:

    • The leaked document was stamped "Client Copy" While the document may not have come from Donald Trump himself, it came from someone with access to his personal records, rather than someone at the IRS.

    • The contents weren't so bad The two-page document revealed that Donald Trump paid $38 million dollars in taxes on $150 million in earnings, an effective tax rate of 25%. That's higher than President Obama paid in 2015, Bernie Sanders paid in 2014 and Mitt Romney paid in 2012. That looks good for Trump. If this is representative of the last decade of returns, why hide them in the first place? Why leak a single example now?

    • The speedy White House response Hours before Maddow's show even aired, the White House released a statement to multiple media outlets revealing the contents of the leak, scooping Maddow and claiming that she broke the law by releasing the documents. They authenticated the contents of the leak while criticizing the leakers. This is a typical Trump camp move to effectively shape the story.

    • The leaker himself alluded to a Trump source. The tax documents were mailed to Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston who wrote a book about Trump in 2016. Johnston suggested on Maddow's show that the leak may have come from Trump himself: “It’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me,” Johnston told Maddow. “It’s a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction.”
Pay attention to the man behind the curtain
Trump has successfully used the media's frothiness to direct public conversation away from dark corners he'd prefer to hide. Yesterday's executive order is a classic example of why we need to pay attention to whatever Trump chooses NOT to tweet about.

The E.O. provides the tools for dismantling all of the dearest services our government provides. Libertarians and small government advocates are dancing in the street, while those of us who understand the value of protecting the public goods should be shaking in our boots.

This article was updated after it was published to indicate that the EO was released on Monday March 13th, not Tuesday the 14th. 

Jen Boynton headshot

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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