The Trump witch hunt will continue, and nobody is more glad than Donald Trump.
The New York Times has Donald Trump’s tax returns, and they already spilled whatever beans they contained. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to stop the returns from being turned over to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., the media will wait breathlessly for a grand jury to issue indictments against the former president.
Let me make a prediction here, and I don’t think I’m going way out over my skis to say this. Vance’s investigation will turn up precisely nothing of value. Sure, the grand jury might hand down a ham sandwich indictment for some minor malfeasance, but it’s not going to stick.
After months of running down every possible lead, the vaunted Times and its roomfuls of reporters (NYT employs 1,600 reporters, more than at any time in the paper’s history, and 4.3 percent of the entire profession in the U.S.) found little to yell “bombshell!” over.
But the long-hidden tax records, obtained by The New York Times, show that Mr. Trump did not have to reach into his wallet for most of that giving. The vast bulk of his charitable tax deductions, $119.3 million worth, came from simply agreeing not to develop land — in several cases, after he had shelved development plans.
Three of the agreements involved what are known as conservation easements — a maneuver, popular among wealthy Americans, that typically allows a landowner to keep a property’s title and receive a tax deduction equal to its appraised value. In the fourth land deal, Mr. Trump donated property for a state park.
This is what Vance is investigating? Inflating the value of real estate to obtain a tax break, real estate that Trump owned, that he may have or may not have felt was worth developing at one point, but set aside because his tax people told him the real estate’s value could reduce his tax load. Martha Stewart went to jail for something more serious.
The biggest threat Trump faces is not Vance, it’s the IRS. If Vance’s investigation gives the IRS reason to overturn Trump’s deductions, he could face a $100 million tax bill.
But you know what? To Trump, it’s worth $100 million (which is chump change for a former president with the gravity well Trump possesses) to keep himself in the news.
The longer the witch hunt goes on, the more Trump gets to stay in the headlines.
This means that Trump’s value as a speaker, like giving the keynote at CPAC, and his ability to raise funds for candidates aligned with him, stays high.
There is no scandal here that the former president has not already endured. There’s literally nothing Vance can turn up based on Trump’s tax records that won’t result in a massive yawn from his supporters. In fact, nearly half of Republicans would leave the GOP to join a Trump party, according to a Suffolk-USA Today poll.
The best medicine for the nation is to move on. I do believe that Fulton County DA Fani Willis and her probe into whether Trump broke any laws as president for his call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is needed, and is the only prosecution likely to have a chance of success. The New York prosecution is nothing more than political grandstanding, and will yield only more headlines for the conflict-starved media, and more press for Trump.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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