WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has always treaded carefully when it comes to President Donald Trump, backing him but very much keeping him at arm’s length.
As chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, Isakson has been careful not to criticize the businessman’s specific plans for avoiding conflicts of interest. Isakson will often shift the focus to his own ethics choices when asked about Trump’s more contentious decisions.
Isakson started doing just that when asked about whether Trump should release his tax returns at a telephone town hall last night, describing how he keeps most of his own financial assets in a blind trust. But after he was nudged by the questioner about whether Trump should disclose his financial information, the senator went on to suggest — rather politely and indirectly — that it might be in the president’s best interest to do so.
“I haven’t called on the president to do it because I was working on another campaign,” Isakson said, referring to his run for a third term last fall. “When I could have had the opportunity to do it I wasn’t working on his campaign. But if I get a chance to work with him I don’t change my opinion. That’s my recommendation to all people running for office. The public has a right to know, there’s no question about that.”
Trump broke with decades of custom when he refused to release his returns on the campaign trail. Trump said that was due to an IRS audit and that he would be willing to release them after that federal probe is complete.
The lack of disclosure has infuriated Democrats, who this week tried to force their release through multiple avenues on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders quickly thwarted those attempts, including one on the House floor Monday.
Isakson is not the only Senate Republican to suggest that Trump go public with his tax returns.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina recently told reporters that Congress should pass a law ahead of the 2020 elections requiring all presidential candidates to release their return. Susan Collins of Maine said she was open to the Senate Intelligence Committee issuing a subpoena for the returns in order to suss out any Trump financial ties to Russia as it investigates whether Moscow interfered in the November election.