Froma Harrop: Tax probes need to happen
Summary: Let's find all the tax cheats. Do it for we who've been paying both our taxes and their taxes.
Hunter Biden says his tax affairs are under investigation. The president-elect's son says he is "confident" the probe by the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware will find no wrongdoing.
Fine. We shall see.
A few things to unpack here. First, inquiries into possible tax fraud should be welcome. When some people cheat on their taxes, those who don't have to cover for them.
At the same time, Joe Biden's 50-year-old son is not Joe. Any tax issues he has are his, not his father's.
President Donald Trump has tried mightily to link Hunter's business dealings with Chinese and European tycoons to Joe, and the investigations have come up empty. He'd undoubtedly love to tie Hunter's tax issues into one public-confusing package.
Attorney General William Barr has rejected Trump's demand for a special counsel to investigate Hunter. He says that scrutiny of Hunter's activities is "being handled responsibly and professionally." Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, which has been scouring Hunter's business ventures, concluded, "None of the Journal's reporting found that Joe Biden was involved in his son's business activities." The tax probe doesn't implicate Joe either.
All this said, it was not OK that Hunter used his powerful political name to rake in cash from foreign tycoons. It was not OK that he used his family ties to score a discounted stake in a Chinese private equity venture or various lucrative consulting deals. Or that he sold himself as the guy who could grease entry into the Washington power structure.
And Joe should have stopped it. There was nothing in Hunter's biography — which included drug and money problems — that would have prompted these foreign interests to hire him for his talents. Two Obama administration officials aired concern that Hunter's seat on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma would leave the appearance of a conflict of interest. Senate Republicans looked hard for evidence that Joe Biden altered U.S. policy in Ukraine for his son, and found none. Still, appearances matter.
Of course, Biden's missteps in letting a family member profit off his Washington connections pale in contrast to the Trumps' brazen self-dealing. In that case, you don't even know where to start.
Imagine the outrage if Biden were to let Hunter stand in for him at a G-20 meeting, as Trump let his daughter Ivanka do. In 2018, China fast-tracked 18 trademarks to companies linked to Trump and Ivanka — you know, those sunglasses, handbags and shoes.
Then there was son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser. Vanity Fair reports that Kushner set up a shell company into which Trump fans are still pouring money. Its apparent purpose was to avoid federally mandated disclosures of campaign spending, much of it heading to Trump family pockets. The company's first president was Eric Trump's wife, Lara. Its first vice president was Vice President Mike Pence's nephew John Pence.
Back on the tax fraud front, state prosecutors in Manhattan are ramping up efforts to obtain Trump's personal and corporate tax returns. They are looking into possible insurance fraud, bank fraud and tax fraud. If they find culpability, Trump could face criminal charges.
Any pardons that Trump might grant himself and his children could shield them from federal prosecutions, but not state ones. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has already testified that Trump inflated the value of his assets to his lenders and then deflated them to cut his real estate taxes. Both practices are illegal. Also under investigation are millions in tax write-offs for consulting services, some apparently for work by Ivanka.
Let's find all the tax cheats. Do it for we who've been paying both our taxes and their taxes.
Froma Harrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.