Email #200: “fishing expedition”?

I am pleased that the President voluntarily submitted a new, 98-page financial disclosure form months before he was legally required to and that the Office of Government Ethics released the form publicly this month. The inexactness of the form, however, emphasizes the continuing need for the President to release his tax records or provide other more detailed reports.

The form allows open-ended ranges, such as “over $50 million” for the value of one of the President’s golf courses. As a result, it reveals that the President owes at least $311 million in mortgages and loans, but possibly far more. (Of the 16 loans he reported, three are below $1 million, seven are below $25 million, one is below $50 million, and the remaining five loans are each above $50 million; how far above is unknown.) More importantly, the form does not reveal the identities of the President’s financial partners. We still do not know what individuals and institutions here and abroad have invested this money in his businesses. As a result, it is impossible to determine what business-related conflicts of interest the President has.

Although you previously identified oversight of the executive branch as one of your top priorities, you have refused requests by members of your own House Judiciary Committee to write to the White House requesting the President’s tax records. You said you could not support such a “fishing expedition.”

I appreciate that reasoning. Kenneth Starr turned the Whitewater real estate investigation into a “fishing expedition” when he deposed President Clinton regarding his unrelated affair with Monica Lewinsky. The House committee on Benghazi used its investigation to disclose Secretary Clinton’s inadequate email security, a topic which soon eclipsed the purpose of the probe.

Although you supported both of those previous “fishing expeditions,” I agree with your newly stated principle opposing such free-ranging probes. For that reason I ask that you lead a compromise approach to President Trump’s finances.

Could you request that the White House release copies of the President’s most recent taxes only to the House Judiciary Committee and only for a very limited period of time? The taxes would only be viewed by Committee members and with the explicit requirement that their content not be revealed publicly except in regard to specific topics identified in advance. More minimally, you could request the identities of all of the President’s business partners. This would avoid a “fishing expedition” while still accessing the most essential information for overseeing the President’s financial activity.

If you are unwilling to make these specific requests, what alternative approaches are you pursuing to oversee the executive branch regarding the President’s business conflicts of interest?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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