mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Disclosures Neither Accurate Nor Honest”: Why Hasn’t Bernie Sanders Released His Tax Returns? (Or Cruz Or Kasich, Either…)

Bernie Sanders holds himself out to huge and adoring crowds as a model of personal, political and financial integrity. But when it comes to revealing his income tax returns, Sanders is as tricky a politician as Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

In this bizarre political year, Donald Trump has shown more candor than Sanders when it comes to his tax returns. That is an amazing and disturbing feat, given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and just making stuff up, as I have been documenting since 1988. Understand that while Trump has fabricated an excuse for not disclosing any of his income tax returns, he was being more forthright than Sanders, who tries to pretend that he has disclosed his taxes.

What may surprise some is that of the five remaining Presidential candidates, only Hillary Clinton has been completely candid and forthright about her and her husband’s income tax returns, a policy of theirs that dates at least to 1992. Despite her singular transparency, news organizations routinely write, without citing any verifiable supporting facts, about Clinton’s perceived mendacity.

So what’s the issue? The Sanders, Cruz and Kasich campaigns have all distributed what they claim are tax returns; Kasich for seven years, Cruz for four, and Sanders for just one year, 2014.

But those proclaimed disclosures were neither accurate nor honest. None of those candidates has released even a single tax return.

What they made public instead was merely a summary known as IRS Form 1040. That form is no more a tax return than the Preamble is the Constitution.

No, a tax return is the entire document filed with the IRS – the forms, schedules, and statements that reveal the numbers and calculations about income, deductions, and tax liabilities behind the summary information on Form 1040. Without the full tax return, the public cannot know sources of income, justifications for deductions, or how aggressively tax law was applied to reduce the income tax due.

History tells us that disclosing complete tax returns, not just a summary form, is vital to determining a president’s trustworthiness. It was only 45 years ago that (freshly “resigned”) Vice President Spiro Agnew plead guilty to one count of tax evasion, making him a felon. Without the action of an IRS employee who illegally leaked President Nixon‘s 1969 through 1972 tax returns, we would never have known about the tax crimes in which the president was an unindicted co-conspirator, and for which one of his advisors plead guilty. If all we had were Nixon’s and Agnew’s Form 1040s, their tax crimes would have remained unknown.

On disclosing tax returns Trump scores better than Sanders, because while Trump will not release his returns, citing a bogus excuse, he has not tried to pretend that he did disclose. But that is exactly what Sanders, Cruz and Kasich did. (Trump says he can’t disclose because he is under IRS audit, even though revealing his returns would have no impact on the audit of a tax return, which is signed under penalty of perjury.)

Contrast their conduct with Hillary Clinton, whose every tax return signed by her and husband Bill has been disclosed since at least 1992. That’s how we know they are far more charitable than the self-described “ardent philanthropist” Donald Trump or any other of the various presidents back to FDR (and some presidential wannabes like Newt Gingrich) who have made public their tax returns. Those returns, and in some cases only Form 1040s, are posted at taxhistory.org, a website maintained by the nonprofit Tax Analysts, for which I write critiques of tax policy.

As for Sanders, the single Form 1040 he released raises more questions than it answers, especially since the junior senator from Vermont has a history of making incomplete and misleading financial disclosures.

In 2014, he reported an adjusted gross income of $205,271, most of it from his Senate salary.

What appears unusual are his itemized deductions, totaling $56,377, a whopping 27.4 percent of his income. People in his income class of $200,000 to $500,000 on average take 15.6 percent of their income as deductions, while those in the $100,000 to $200,000 range averaged 18.8 percent. Both averages are far below the Sanders itemization rate.

Sanders and his wife paid $27,653 in federal income tax, or 13.4 percent of their adjusted gross income.

When I tried to look more closely at Sanders’ taxes, Michael Briggs, the chief spokesman for his campaign, sent a statement that is simply not true, although he may not have understood why at first. In an email, Briggs wrote that Sanders and his wife Jane “made public his federal and state income tax returns last year when he became a candidate for president and intends to do so again this year.”

I wrote back to Briggs repeatedly, explaining that a Form 1040 is not a tax return. Perhaps that was unnecessary, since Briggs has more than two decades of experience as a political reporter and publicist for various U.S. senators. More than two decades ago on C-SPAN, he displayed a nuanced understanding of legal issues.

That background raises difficult questions about Briggs’ responses, which i tried to explore despite his failure to answer follow-up questions. The Cruz and Kasich campaigns also ignored emails asking for their complete tax returns or an explanation of why only Form 1040s were released

To readers who think this sounds too harsh, I’d say that when Sanders holds himself out as a paragon — running a campaign built on the idea that he remains untainted by money from the rich and powerful — he should be expected to walk the talk.

Sanders set the standard here. I am holding him to the same measure of integrity that I have used to assess Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, and numerous other politicians at the federal, state and local levels going back almost 50 years to my first investigative story.

Last fall, Sanders revised his 2012 and 2014 financial disclosures twice. His 2013 disclosure was revised three times. Sanders failed to disclose four mortgages, all of them at market interest rates, which raises a question about his judgment, since nothing appears improper except the failure to fully disclose.

Mark Lippman of Daily Kos was evidently the first to report the Vermont senator’s incomplete disclosures. He also noted that the value of Jane Sanders’ “retirement accounts appreciated in value from $285,000 in 2011 to $481,000 in 2014.” Nothing wrong there, by the way, though readers may find the 68.8 percent increase puzzling because Lippman failed to give context. The broad stock market rose 64 percent during that period, indicating the big gain was basically owed to stock market returns, plus about $400 a month in additional deposits to Ms. Sanders’ retirement portfolio.

Why Sanders would play games with his income taxes is a mystery. While he is much better off than most Americans, he is a man of modest means compared to Clinton, Cruz, and Trump. But his conduct raises a question politically. Is  he hiding something? Certainly Trump is, since the boastful billionaire probably pays close to zero in income taxes, as I have explained here, here and here.

The question to ask Sanders – as well as Cruz, Kasich, and Trump – is why they are hiding the information they supplied under penalty of perjury to the IRS as a true, complete, and accurate description of their income, deductions, and taxes.

And whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton, she deserves real props for more than two decades of being forthright and complete in disclosing her tax returns.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, April 1, 2016

April 2, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Tax Returns, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Chris Christie’s Problems Are Just Beginning”: Why The Bridgegate Indictments Don’t Clear His Name

While other Republican presidential contenders get to make their case for why they should lead the country, or take pot shots at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,  New Jersey Governor Christie is doing his best to not let his past define him. But when that  past, in the form of Bridgegate,  continues to dominate the news, that gets  harder and harder to do.

Just wait for the Bridgegate trials to begin.

If Bloomberg News is right, Federal prosecutors haven’t just been going after Bill Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein, all of whom were indicted yesterday on federal corruption charges, and the latter of whom has already pleaded guilty; prosecutors are also apparently looking at former Port Authority Chairman and Christie confidant David Sampson in a separate criminal probe not related to Bridegate, but to allegations Samson tried to shake down United Airlines.

In the meantime, in damage control mode, Christie used Wildstein’s guilty plea and the indictments of Baroni and Kelly, and the fact that he was not himself named in the indictment, as proof that he’s in the clear on Bridgegate. In a statement, Christie said that the “charges make clear what I’ve said from day one is true: I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.”

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who has been on the Bridgegate caper since January of 2014, did offer Christie a kind of qualified lifeline at his press conference Friday, saying: “Based currently on the evidence available  to my office and the agents  with whom we have been working, we will not be bringing any further charges related to the matters discussed in today’s indictment.”

Yet just minutes after Wildstein’s guilty plea was formally announced, his lawyer Allan Zegas was serving up red meat for hungry reporters. Zegas relayed to reporters Wildstein’s contrition for his role in the  alleged plot, but before he walked away from the microphones, he re-iterated what he has said before, that “evidence exists that the Governor knew of the lane closures while they were occurring.”

Zegas told reporters that Wildstein, one of Christie’s former point men in the Port Authority, had been cooperating for some time with federal prosecutors, had answered thousands of question from them, and was still being questioned. Zegas volunteered also that “there is a lot more that will come out,” all of which he said that Wildstein will be willing to testify about at trial. Wildstein is scheduled to be sentenced in August, but that could be moved until after the trial, when the government and the judge in the case can fully assess just how well Wildstein cooperated with prosecutors.

When U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman was asked directly at yesterday’s press conference about Zegas’s tantalizing comments about Christie, Fishman declined to answer. When Fishman was asked directly if Christie “was in the clear,” he said “I am not sure what that means so I really can’t answer that question.”

“Is he going to be further investigated,” the questioner pressed.

“I am not going to comment on whether anybody is going to be further investigated in connection with this or any other matter ever,” said Fishman.

“Can we say [Christie is] cooperating?” another reporter asked.

“I am not going to say whether witnesses are, or are not, cooperating.”Fishman responded.

Another reporter asked if it could be said that Governor Christie had been misled by the conspirators. Fishman passed on that question as well.

But Fishman did have his version of a “stay tuned” tease when he confirmed  that other names might surface in the case as “un-indicted co-conspirators,” who may have been willful participants but might not be charged for their role in what prosecutors allege was a criminal conspiracy.

“The indictment does say Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and others” Fishman conceded. “We don’t identify un-indicted co-conspirators in our indictment by name unless they have been previously mentioned in a publicly filed court document, and that is not the case here. There may come a time during the course of the proceedings when we  will make a disclosure to the court or defense council who the co-conspirators are, but it is Department of Justice policy not to do it now,” Fishman told reporters.

“To charge someone and to convict someone, we have an obligation to only bring a case in which we have sufficient evidence  to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is in fact guilty of a crime. That is not the standard for somebody to be an un-indicted co-conspirator. The standard for an un-indicted co-conspirator can be less than that. It can also be that we don’t plan on charging somebody that was involved,” Fishman said.

The indictment charges that Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein purposefully timed the George Washington Bridge lane closures in September 2013 to create maximum havoc on the first day of school, punishment doled out after Fort Lee’s Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Christie for re-election. What will come out in excruciating detail at trial is just how vindictive the plan actually was in its particulars. This will no doubt provide an opportunity for the news media to run archival tape of Governor Christie publicly offering the defense that the Fort Lee traffic jam was caused by a legitimate Port Authority traffic study, a cover story Federal prosecutors now charge was entirely fabricated, and a part of the criminal conspiracy.

Based on the tenor of  the post-indictment press availabilities for lawyers representing Bill Baroni, and a similar availability held by former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and her attorney, what the public is going to be treated to at trial will be a public circular firing squad. It will be Christie operative turning on Christie operative, all with their liberty hanging in the balance. All parties have vowed to mount vigorous defenses that will paint  David Widlstein as a liar.

And what do all three of these folks have in common? Governor Christie thought they were all fit to hold high positions of public trust.

 

By: Robert Hennelly, Salon, May 2, 2015

May 4, 2015 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: