Cartoon by Ken Catalino

Why Trump and the Republicans are terrified of transparency

By Paul Waldman, Opinion writer

The Washington Post: When they run for president, many candidates pledge to have “the most transparent administration in history.” Sometimes they mean it and sometimes they don’t, but you can at least give Donald Trump credit for not making that promise in 2016. He couldn’t be bothered to pretend to value transparency and had every intention of keeping his doings as secret as possible.

Now, Democrats are in a position to demand answers and documents from the administration. And that has left the entire Republican Party working to clamp down on information in as many ways as possible, lest the public get too close a look at what the administration is really up to.

Let's begin here:

    Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker said he will not appear before Congress on Friday without assurances that he won’t be subpoenaed — giving Democrats a deadline of 6 p.m. Thursday to respond.

    Whitaker’s move came shortly after the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to give its chairman the authority to subpoena Whitaker’s testimony, should he not appear or answer lawmakers’ questions.

“I’ll come, but only if you promise not to demand that I come” is certainly a novel offer. Of course, if Whitaker is going to voluntarily testify, the possibility of subpoenaing him is moot. It’s almost as though he’s laying the groundwork to charge the committee with being mean to him, then refuse to come after all. And Justice Department representatives say that even if he does testify, he’ll refuse to answer questions about his conversations with the president.

Which in ordinary circumstances might be justifiable, but, in this case, those communications are at the heart of the matter of whether he should have recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. We certainly have a right to know whether Whitaker gave President Trump any assurances that he would use his position to tamp down the investigation or suppress its final report, which the president would prefer. But Whitaker won’t say — if he deigns to answer questions at all.
Trump dodges question on whether Whitaker should testify

President Trump said Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker is a "very fine man," when asked about Whitaker withholding his Feb. 8 testimony from Congress. (The Washington Post)

Speaking of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, it does appear that he’s at least approaching the end of his investigation, which raises the question of whether the public will get to see whatever he produces at its end. Trump’s nominee to be the new attorney general, William P. Barr, hedged on the question in his confirmation hearing, saying, “I don’t know what, at the end of the day, what will be release-able.” And the White House is preparing to assert executive privilege in an attempt to keep as much as possible of Mueller’s report hidden from the public.

That’s despite the fact that in a new CNN poll, 87 percent of those surveyed — including 80 percent of Republicans — say the Mueller report should be made public.

Let’s be honest here: The administration would like to keep the Mueller report hidden because they’re afraid of what will happen if the public sees it. Fighting for secrecy might itself be politically damaging, but they no doubt calculate that the damage from the report itself will be much worse, so if they can keep it secret, they’ll come out ahead.

Which is not coincidentally the same calculation Trump made when he decided to go against decades of tradition and refuse to release his tax returns. Yes, he would take a political hit for it, but it would be far worse if the public actually saw them.

The problem is now that Democrats have control of the House, they can demand the returns from the IRS as long as they have a legitimate purpose for doing so, and they have dozens of legitimate purposes. So Trump’s allies in Congress have come to the conclusion that a president being forced to show us his returns is an unconscionable threat to the privacy of every American >>>