Michael Desmond is the chief counsel of the Internal Revenue Service. The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fast-track Desmond’s confirmation ahead of other key positions, including the attorney general.
The Times reported that Trump on February 5 asked McConnell to make Desmond’s confirmation a priority over other matters, including the confirmation of Attorney General Bill Barr.
White House aides insisted that Desmond’s confirmation was a priority after the passage of the 2017 tax cuts and Trump told McConnell that he was concerned that Desmond may withdraw from consideration because his confirmation was taking too long. But The Times notes that Trump may have been motivated by Democratic vows to request his tax returns from the IRS.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal formally asked the IRS for six years of Trump’s tax returns this week under an obscure provision in a 1924 law that allows the panel to ask for the returns of any filer.
Desmond previously briefly advised the Trump Organization on tax matters and worked alongside two tax attorneys that now serve as tax counsels to the Trump Organization.
Trump has vowed to fight Neal’s attempt to obtain his tax returns though the law does not provide any recourse for the White House or Treasury Department to deny the request.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Michael Desmond Previously Advised The Trump Organization
Trump first nominated Desmond in July 2018. Bloomberg News reported at the time that Desmond previously served as a legal adviser to the Trump Organization.
James Wilkinson, a spokesman for Desmond, told Bloomberg that Desmond advised the company on “a discrete reporting matter for a subsidiary company that was resolved with no tax impact.”
He did not say when Desmond did work for Trump but it apparently took place between 2008 and 2011, Bloomberg reported.
Desmond, who previously worked for the Justice Department, joined tax firm McKee Nelson Ernst & Young in 2000, where he worked alongside William Nelson and former IRS chief counsel Sheri Dillon.
In 2005, Nelson and Dillon became tax counsel to the Trump Organization.
Nelson and Dillon now work for Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, where they continue to represent the Trump Organization.
2. Trump Asked Mitch McConnell to Fast-Track Desmond’s Nomination
Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fast-track Desmond’s confirmation earlier this year, The New York Times reported.
The report noted that White House aides said Desmond’s confirmation was a priority after the 2017 tax cuts were passed and Trump was reportedly concerned that the process was dragging out so long that Desmond may withdraw his name from consideration. But The Times added that the February 5 request to McConnell “raised questions” about whether Trump was motivated by Democrats’ vows to obtain his tax returns.
Trump asked McConnell to make Desmond’s confirmation a top priority, even above Attorney General Bill Barr’s confirmation, which came ahead of the completion of special counsel Bob Mueller’s final report. McConnell does not appear to have acted on the request. Barr’s nomination was moved forward two weeks before Desmond was confirmed on February 27.
3. Desmond Was Confirmed Before Democrats Requested Trump’s Tax Returns
Trump’s push to get Desmond confirmed came ahead of Neal’s long-awaited request for the IRS to turn over Trump’s tax returns. Under a 1924 law, the IRS is required to turn over any return information to the Ways and Means Committee.
Trump has vowed to fight the request but the law does not give the White House or Treasury Department a mechanism to deny the request. Trump has claimed that he would not release his returns because he is “under audit” but Neal rejected his claim that an audit would preclude the release of the tax returns.
“Under the Internal Revenue Manual, individual income tax returns of a President are subject to mandatory examination, but this practice is IRS policy and not codified in the Federal tax laws,” Neal wrote in a letter to the IRS. “It is necessary for the committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return.”
“My preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration,” he added. “My actions reflect an abiding reverence for our democracy and our institutions, and are in no way based on emotion of the moment or partisanship. I trust that in this spirit, the IRS will comply with federal law and furnish me with the requested documents in a timely manner.”
Neal gave the IRS until April 10 to comply with the request.
4. Desmond Works for IRS Chief Who Backed Trump’s Effort to Withhold Tax Returns
It’s unclear if or how Trump thinks Desmond could help fight the release of the tax returns but installing a former Trump Organization adviser at the IRS is part of a larger trend of Trump installing allies into key positions.
The recently-confirmed IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, owns 50 percent shares in two residential units in Waikiki Trump International Hotel and Tower in Hawaii, The Wall Street Journal reported last year. Each unit costs $1.1 million.
Prior to being nominated, Rettig wrote an op-ed in Forbes arguing that Trump should not release his tax returns.
5. Desmond Previously Worked for the Justice Department & Treasury Department
Desmond is a longtime tax attorney who has spent time at the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
Prior to being nominated to be IRS chief counsel, he ran his own tax law firm, according to his White House bio.
From 1995 to 2000, he worked as a trial attorney for the Tax Division at the Department of Justice.
From 2005 to 2008, he served as tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy.