The White House has once again ducked questions about President Donald Trump’s tax returns, as questions mount about the administration’s commitment to transparency.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to deflect questions about Mr Trump’s returns at a press conference on Monday, repeatedly stating that Mr Trump is under audit by the IRS and thus cannot release his returns. The IRS has confirmed that individuals under audit are permitted to release their returns.
The issue of Mr Trump’s tax returns – a frequent point of contention on the campaign trail – resurfaced this week on the eve of Tax Day. As US citizens prepared to file their taxes on 18 April, hundreds marched to demand that the president release his own.
Asked on Monday if he could say that Mr Trump would never release his tax returns, Mr Spicer responded, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Reporters further pressed Mr Spicer on a perceived lack of transparency during Mr Trump’s travels. The President has visited Mar-a-Lago seven times in the three months since his inauguration, and members of the White House press pool say it makes their jobs uniquely difficult.
“Trump has a very rare situation in that, in his golf clubs, he has a place where he can go that the press can be kept out of,” explained Christina Wilkie, White House reporter for The Huffington Post. “...We have this very unusual situation where the pool is not the closest person to the President.”
In February, members of the press corps found their windows at Mar-a-Lago covered with black garbage bags, blocking their view of the president’s golf game with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Last month, reporters were told that Mr Trump was conducting meetings at the White House, while pictures on social media showed him playing golf.
Just this weekend, the President spent a full day inside the golf club at Mar-a-Lago. Pool reporters were not permitted inside, or told what the president was doing.
“What’s striking about this White House is that they will continue to stonewall the pool reporters assigned to be with the President, even as photographs are being released of the president playing golf,” Ms Wilkie told The Independent.
Mr Spicer dismissed reporters’ criticism on Monday, saying he believes that White House has done a “very good job” of providing information on the president's whereabouts and actions. He attributed gaps in information to the President needing “private time.”
“I think we do a very good job of getting you information, of bringing you along to events,” he said. “...The President is entitled to have some time with some family and friends just to catch up.”
Amazing denial of reality by Spicer today, claiming WH is transparent about Trump’s time at Mar-A-Lago and his WH visitors.— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) April 17, 2017
This is absurd.
Reporters and watchdog groups also raised issues with another transparency concern this week: the administration’s decision to keep all White House visitor logs private. The White House announced on Friday that the names of those who visit the White House complex will not be released until at least five years after Mr Trump leaves office.
Mr Spicer on Monday defended the policy as being the same used “by every administration from the beginning of time.”
Presidents up through George W Bush have chosen to keep the visitor logs private, as they are legally entitled to do. But President Obama reversed this policy slightly, choosing to reveal the names of some 6 million visitors over the course of his presidency.
Mr Spicer on Monday criticised former President Obama for not releasing the names of all of his visitors, while confirming that Mr Trump would reveal none of his.
“You don’t know who got left off and who didn’t,” he said of Mr Obama’s visitor logs. “...We’re going to have the same policy that every president has had through time, and comply with the law on both fronts.”
Mr Spicer has previously claimed that the level of transparency displayed by Mr Trump “exceeded any modern president in terms of who's involved.”