WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2022
...by our blue tribe's tribunes? Yesterday, we began to offer you an award-winning case report. Our case report is tied to a very basic question.
Our very basic question is directed to members of our own blue tribe. The question goes like this:
Can we believe the things we're told by our blue tribe's tribunes?
Can we believe the things we're told by the people we're told we can trust? At this crazy time of partisan warfare, sadly, the answer is no.
The case report we have started concerns a commonly stated claim about the offensive beliefs of a group of "white medical students." That commonly stated claim derives from a 2016 UVa study. It seems to us that the basic claims of that widely cited study are, in a word, simply false.
Yesterday, we gave you three examples of the commonly stated claim derived from that UVa study. Tomorrow, we'll continue with our case report.
For today, we make a detour, in service to that underlying question: Can you believe the things you're told? Actually, no—you cannot!
We refer to a thrilling claim we've been seeing all over blue tribe "cable news" programs. Eventually, we'll show you the way Mika Brzezinski stated the claim on today's Morning Joe. But in its essence, the thrilling claim goes like this:
Trump was lying all along when he said he was being audited!
Mika exulted in that claim as Morning Joe started this morning. (Joe himself was absent.) Unless we're mistaken, even a sane, sober figure like David Ignatius joined her in making that claim.
The claim is thrilling for blue tribe members, but as far as we know, it's just wrong. We're prepared to learn otherwise as the tribal warfare resumes and continues—but in this age of partisan warfare, the facts rarely come into view.
Why do we say that, as far as we know, that thrilling claim is wrong? Didn't we learn, just last night, that the IRS failed to perform its routine, annual audit of Trump during his years in the White House?
We did learn a version of that claim—and you'll be hearing a great deal about it as the warfare rolls on. Here's the way the New York Times reports that fact on today's front page, dual headline included:
I.R.S. LET TRUMP AVOID TAX AUDITS WHILE IN OFFICE
2 YEARS GO UNCHECKED
The Internal Revenue Service failed to audit former President Donald J. Trump’s tax filings during his first two years in office despite a program that makes the auditing of sitting presidents mandatory, a House committee revealed on Tuesday after an extraordinary vote to make public six years of his tax returns.
Mr. Trump filed returns in 2017 for the two previous tax years, but the I.R.S. began auditing those filings only in 2019—the first on the same day in April the Ways and Means Committee requested access to his taxes and any associated audits, a report by the panel said. The I.R.S. has yet to complete those audits, it said, and the agency started auditing his filings covering his income while president only after he left office.
On its face, that report would seem to suggest inappropriate conduct by the IRS. But that report involves the question of whether Trump's tax returns were audited for the years he was in office.
It doesn't mean that he wasn't being audited when he first ran for the White House. It doesn't mean that Trump was lying about being audited all along.
Mika was exulting this morning as she made her embellished claim. Warning! In our appraisal, almost everything you currently hear on blue cable is being embellished or manipulated in some tribally pleasing way.
The same is true on Fox, of course—but it's also true Over Here.
As the week continues, we'll offer you a detailed case report concerning the offensive beliefs of those now famous "white medical students." For today, let's get clear on the basic question concerned Trump's claims about audits.
Was Donald J. Trump under audit when he ran for the White House in 2016? Persistently, he said that he was—but was his statement accurate?
As far as we know, it was! Here's the AP's current report regarding that repeated claim by Trump:
BOAK ET AL (12/21/22): The reports released Tuesday [yesterday] renewed scrutiny on one of the biggest questions that has surrounded Trump since he shifted from a reality television star to an unlikely presidential candidate: Why did he abandon the post-Watergate tradition of White House hopefuls releasing their tax returns? Trump and those around him have consistently said that IRS audits prevented him from doing so.
“I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit,” Trump said on April 10, 2019, before boarding the presidential helicopter.
There are no laws that would have barred Trump from voluntarily releasing his returns even if they were being audited. But when Trump spoke of being audited, it’s unclear whether he was referring to the mandatory process specifically aimed at presidents or prior reviews that are more typical for wealthy individuals.
The New York Times found that before he entered the White House, Trump was facing an IRS audit potentially tied to a $72.9 million tax refund arising from $700 million in losses he claimed in 2009. The documents released Tuesday indicate that Trump continued to collect tax benefits from those losses through 2018.
In that passage, the AP repeats what has long been noted—Candidate Trump could have released his tax returns back in 2016, even if he was under audit.
That said, the AP report also says this:
It says the New York Times has reported that Trump actually was under audit at that point in time. The Times reported that in the behemoth front-page report it released in September 2020, a report which produced major interest when it appeared.
Was Candidate Trump under audit in 2016? Here's what the New York Times said:
BUETTNER AT AL (9/27/20): As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
In fact, confidential records show that starting in 2010 he claimed, and received, an income tax refund totaling $72.9 million—all the federal income tax he had paid for 2005 through 2008, plus interest.
The legitimacy of that refund is at the center of the audit battle that he has long been waging, out of public view, with the I.R.S.
The records that The Times reviewed square with the way Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited, without explanation, an ongoing audit as grounds for refusing to release his tax returns. He alluded to it as recently as July on Fox News, when he told Sean Hannity, “They treat me horribly, the I.R.S., horribly.”
And while the records do not lay out all the details of the audit, they match his lawyers’ statement during the 2016 campaign that audits of his returns for 2009 and subsequent years remained open, and involved “transactions or activities that were also reported on returns for 2008 and earlier.”
An agreement was reached in late 2014, the documents indicate, but the audit resumed and grew to include Mr. Trump’s returns for 2010 through 2013. In the spring of 2016, with Mr. Trump closing in on the Republican nomination, the case was sent back to the committee. It has remained there, unresolved, with the statute of limitations repeatedly pushed forward.
Precisely why the case has stalled is not clear. But experts say it suggests that the gap between the sides remains wide. If negotiations were to deadlock, the case would move to federal court, where it could become a matter of public record.
The unresolved audit of his $72.9 million tax refund hangs over his head.
According to that high-profile report, Candidate Trump actually was under audit when he first sought the White House. According to that report, that audit was still being conducted—was still "hanging over his head"—when he sought re-election.
According to that Times report, Candidate Trump wasn't lying, in 2016, when he said he was under audit. We mention this because you're going to hear a lot of people—people you think you can trust—triumphantly telling you something pleasingly different.
We can't yet show you what Mika said; we'll be able to do so later. For now, here's what Lawrence said on The Last Word last night:
O'DONNELL (12/20/22): You will recall that Donald Trump began telling the lie during his first presidential campaign that he could not release his tax returns because they were being audited. As I said at the time, Donald Trump offered absolutely no proof that his tax returns were being audited...As of tonight, there is no evidence of Donald Trump's tax returns ever having been audited.
That's what Lawrence said at the start of last night's program. We refer you to the current AP report, and to the gigantic report by the New York Times.
Did Donald J. Trump cheat on his taxes during all those long years? We have no idea! That said, our report today doesn't concern the conduct of Donald J. Trump, who we regard as a vastly disordered figure.
Our report today concerns the disordered conduct of the multimillionaire corporate stars you've been conditioned to think of as journalists, and as people you can trust. At the unfortunate point we've reached, almost nothing these people say hasn't been embellished or distorted in some way or other, and we think that you and yours are entitled to know that.
Meanwhile, what did those white medical students believe? We hear about their alleged beliefs on a rather frequent basis, but what did they actually believe?
What did those white medical students believe? We'll return to our case report in tomorrow's edition.
Tomorrow: A peculiar research design?