Just as it has been a challenge for fact-checkers to keep up with Trump’s lies, it has been difficult to track all of the ethical lapses of members of his administration. We can now add IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to the list.
The issue with Rettig goes beyond mere ethics, however, because he is in the hot seat since Democrats formally requested that the I.R.S. hand over six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Would it surprise you to learn that Rettig has financial interests that are entangled with those of the president.
When Trump nominated Rettig to lead the IRS in February 2018, Rettig initially failed to disclose that the Hawaii real estate he owned was at a Trump-branded property. He bought a 50 percent interest in two units at Trump International Waikiki in 2006 ahead of the building’s completion in 2009. It is likely that Trump profited off of his future-IRS commissioner’s purchase; although the Trump Organization does not own the Waikiki property, its branding deal gave it a 10 percent share of total pre-sales.
Records indicate Rettig is definitely making money from this purchase: on his financial disclosure, he reported an income between $100,000 and $1 million in rent and/or royalties from the units. The two one-bedroom condos are valued around $1.2 million each, according to Hawaii property records. President Trump also made a promotional appearance at the property in 2017 ahead of a diplomatic trip.
Rettig’s financial interest at Trump-branded property raises serious ethics questions as the president continues to fight to keep his tax returns secret. The public has a strong interest in seeing the president’s tax returns to understand whether he is using the White House to further his own bottom line. The fact that Trump’s IRS Commissioner is entangled in the president’s business interests means we have to ask whether Rettig’s decision on releasing the president’s tax returns is based on the public interest or his own financial interests.
Just as we have seen so many times with members of this administration, Rettig initially failed to disclose that he had a financial interest in a Trump-branded property. It is hard to imagine how he would forget an investment that is valued at almost $3 million. Obviously he assumed it was something to hide.
This is now the man who is tasked with deciding whether to turn Trump’s tax records over to Congress. For an idea of what is at stake, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal put it in some perspective.
This I say with considerable conviction: the release of Trump's tax returns would be the end of his presidency.
— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) April 9, 2019
Trump is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he sure knows how to surround himself with the kind of people who do his bidding—either because they have a stake in his affairs, or because he has the goods on them. Either way, this president operates more like a mafia boss than a public servant.