The one thing we know beyond the shadow of a doubt to a moral certainty is this: When Harry Reid claims he shouldn’t have to prove up his allegation that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for 10 years, Reid himself knows he’s flat wrong.
Before he was a senator, a longtime legislator, and a political leader, Reid was something else: a lawyer. He went to a very good law school (George Washington University), passed the bar and practiced in the field for years. And you can’t do all that without learning this: In the American system of law, the person who makes an allegation has the burden to prove that allegation.
After all, what would American courts look like otherwise? “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that Mr. Guilty Man here committed the murder on the night in question! And now, let him explain himself!” Or this, “Your honor, my client slipped and fell in the mall because the mall’s managers were willfully negligent. Now, let’s hear them try to prove otherwise!”
Ridiculous. As ridiculous as the quotes Reid offered on Wednesday while expanding on his central allegation. First, he told the Huffington Post that he’d been told by a former investor at Bain Capital (Romney’s former firm) that Romney had paid no taxes for 10 years. Then, he said he’d heard that from “a number of people,” but declined to give up sources.
And while initially admitting he had no proof — “Now do I know that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” Reid said — the senator and lawyer tried to re-write the entire American legal tradition.
“I don’t think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him,” Reid said, in today’s piece by Review-Journal Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault. “He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes. Why didn’t he release his tax returns?”
Yes, we know who’s making the allegation. But simply making an allegation doesn’t make it so. Reid reminds you of a person who’s trying to convince you of the existence of God, who asks you to assume for the sake of the argument that God exists! The rules of logic (and traditions of the law) simply do not allow for that sort of thing.
(Having said that, of course, it must also be said that Romney is under absolutely no obligation to release his tax returns simply because he’s running for president, even if his father, George Romney, released 12 years of tax returns back in 1968 when the elder Romney ran for president. But the corollary to that is this: The American people are perfectly entitled to draw whatever inference from Romney’s failure to release his returns they deem fit. This — unlike, say, a criminal trial — is the difference between the law and politics.)
But we’re not done with Reid, who went on to wonder about how horrible it would be if his allegation is true (and, by extension, invites us once again to assume the thing he alleges is true without offering evidence, witnesses or proof of any kind).
“What if he paid no taxes, like I am saying he hasn’t?” Reid asked. “What if he has all these monies as we already know … in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Swiss banks. I mean, gee whiz, rather than ask me why I should do this, that is a story you should be writing.”
Has it come to this? Is Reid the left’s answer to a birther in reasoning, madly outlining the terrible consequences if only the thing he has yet to prove happens to be true? The only real difference is that there’s ample proof birthers are wrong, and should be disregarded. In Reid’s case, there’s been no proof offered to prove or disprove the charge. And there won’t be, unless Romney decides he’s going to release his returns.
Tonight, Reid once again repeated his allegations and, once more, called on Romney to release his returns. Here’s his statement, in full:
“There is a controversy because the Republican presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, refuses to release his tax returns. As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for ten years. People who make as much money as Mitt Romney have many tricks at their disposal to avoid paying taxes. We already know that Romney has exploited many of these loopholes, stashing his money in secret, overseas accounts in places like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
“Last weekend, Governor Romney promised that he would check his tax returns and let the American people know whether he ever paid a rate lower than 13.9 percent. One day later, his campaign raced to say he had no intention of putting out any further information.
“When it comes to answering the legitimate questions the American people have about whether he avoided paying his fair share in taxes or why he opened a Swiss bank account, Romney has shut up. But as a presidential candidate, it’s his obligation to put up, and release several years’ worth of tax returns just like nominees of both parties have done for decades.
“It’s clear Romney is hiding something, and the American people deserve to know what it is. Whatever Romney’s hiding probably speaks volumes about how he would approach issues that directly impact middle-class families, like tax reform and the economy. When you are running for president, you should be an open book.
“I understand Romney is concerned that many people, Democrats and Republicans, have been calling on him to release his tax returns. He has so far refused. There is only one thing he can do to clear this up, and that’s release his tax returns.”
Well, that would solve things, wouldn’t it? It would also undoubtedly give Democrats a thousand more things to criticize Romney about, from deductions to overall income to taking advantage of tax shelters (Romney has already said he pays the smallest legally required amount in taxes, which, notwithstanding his wealth, puts in the company of the entire American public).
Reid has been known for a loose tongue before. He called former President George W. Bush a liar. He called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “an embarrassment.” He called former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan “one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.” He said tourists in the humid summer heat of Washington, D.C. emit noxious odors.
And here’s the thing: By and large, Reid has right when he says those things. (Bush did lie; Thomas’s rulings leave something to be desired, and sweaty tourists do smell. Greenspan may very well have been a hack, but I admit I’m not qualified to judge that one.)
It could very well be that Reid is right about Romney, too, and that the former governor used “many tricks” to get out of paying taxes. (If he did so, but those “many tricks” were legal, Romney can be accused only of complying with the law. But that would certainly be something he’d like to keep out of the public domain while running for president. On the other hand, Romney may simply not want to detail his earnings and investments for the reason most of us don’t go around telling people our gross adjusted income from last year.)
But before we get to whether Reid is right or wrong, we have to acknowledge this: Even Reid must know he’s wrong about the burden of proof. Romney has no more obligation — moral, legal or otherwise — to release his tax returns in response to Reid’s allegation than a criminal defendant does to take the stand and endure cross-examination simply because a grand jury has charged him. This is America, and we simply don’t do things that way.
Or at least we shouldn’t.
Tags: Harry Reid