On the February issue:
What Next for the FBI?
To the Editor:
ELi Lake has written a very good article about the investigation into the Trump campaign (“The FBI Scandal,” February). I’d add only one important point: Police reports, including wiretap warrants, are considered to be under oath, and falsification of a police report is felony perjury. Intentional exclusion of exculpatory evidence counts as misrepresentation. There is criminal exposure here. What the FBI did counts as more than simply bad behavior.
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
My conclusions are much the same as Eli Lake’s, but with one notable variation: I believe that John Brennan played a more dominant and crucial role in the scandal. James Comey, the FBI, and to a lesser extent James Clapper were initially duped by Brennan but soon became enthusiastic participants in the faulty investigation.
Brennan was the force behind turning the legitimate investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election into an investigation of Trump-Russia collusion. Both Comey and Clapper initially pushed back on Brennan before eventually acquiescing.
I have spent some spare time trying to understand the Russia-Trump collusion fiasco, and I’m still trying to sort it all out. But I greatly appreciate your having provided your insights.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Eli Lake writes:
George Douglas is correct that falsifying information for a warrant is a serious crime. The inspector general agrees. He referred Kevin Clinesmith for criminal investigation. It’s up to the Justice Department to determine whether and how he will be charged. It’s also possible that U.S. attorney John Durham’s report will recommend more criminal charges.
There is, as Dale Rowe writes, circumstantial evidence that John Brennan was an early adopter of the Steele dossier. Though it’s significant that the CIA’s Russia analyst dismissed Steele’s reporting. Again, this is something that John Durham is investigating, and I await his findings.
The Wealth Tax Gets Worse
To the Editor:
David Bahnsen makes a strong case against a Warren/Sanders–style wealth tax, but there are additional problems (“The Wealth-Tax Horror,” February).
Many public securities have daily quotations that would not reflect the realizable value for a large minority holding that came to market. The varying considerations around such block discounts are common issues in estate-tax audits. Similarly, private-equity, real-estate, and venture-capital partnership interests often provide net-asset value estimates. But these may be very different from the actual prices at which occasional secondary market transactions occur. Moreover, sales of these interests often require the permission of the general partner to admit the new holder into the limited partnership, and such permission may be arbitrarily withheld. Many private-equity, venture-capital, and real-estate vehicles carry with them obligations to meet unpredictable capital calls by the general partner that may not even occur during the partnership’s life. Similarly, the reductions in wealth attributable to various forms of debt or pledges can be as complex and fraught as the valuation of assets. Rich people often have myriad and intricate obligations associated with their ongoing activities.
Finally, the government is a silent partner in all appreciated assets to the extent of the tax share of realized appreciation. Will these implicit obligations be deductions in determining taxpayer wealth subject to the new tax? The candidates’ proposals don’t appear to address this vexing problem of accounting for deferred taxes, i.e., those taxes that would be owed on the proceeds from a sale of assets, in calculating net wealth. In a complex and progressive income-tax system, what tax rates would be assumed for these purposes? Should prospective state and local taxes also be taken into consideration? Bernie Sanders has proposed marginal federal capital-gains rates as high as 63 percent and a New York City resident presently can incur another 13 percent, so this issue would be vital, especially for business founders with low-cost stock.
In effect, the current wealth tax proposals would require the equivalent of valuing and settling an estate—every year—for those above, or near, the wealth-tax threshold. The assembled data might slake Professors Piketty and Saenz’s curiosity; but it would do so at the cost of an enormous financial burden and managerial distraction to those actually or potentially subject to such a levy.
Paul J. Isaac
New York City
David Bahnsen writes:
The details that Paul J. Isaac adds are very much in line with the critique I offer in my case against Warren’s tax. The disconnect between market pricing of low-liquidity assets with non-realizable net-asset value marks is just another example of the broader point I make regarding the infeasibility of the Warren/Sanders wealth tax.
But his letter also brings up a point I did not previously consider. Like a 706 estate-tax return for an estate that does not exceed the estate-tax exclusion amount, would the Warren/Sanders wealth tax actually require someone who was, say, $10 million beneath the level to owe on the tax to prove they were beneath the level, incurring potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense each year in tax, legal, audit, and appraisal work, all to show that no tax was really owed? If not, what would the cut-off be? People below the wealth-tax threshold should be just as concerned as those above it!
To the Editor:
The esteemed and always entertaining Joseph Epstein has again delivered a masterpiece of critical analysis in his article on Ralph Ellison (“Ralph Ellison in Opposition,” February). As a white, Orthodox Jew, and having read Ellison’s Invisible Man more than 40 years ago in college, I don’t think I ever really understood the multiple and nuanced layers of the black experience in America. Later, after being told by the self-appointed academic guardians of culture that because I was not black I couldn’t possibly understand it and that any attempts to do so would be considered “cultural appropriation,” I chose to not even try. After reading Epstein’s remarkable essay, especially his comments on Ellison’s independence of mind and thought, and his almost Victor Frankl–like maintenance of dignity and restraint in the face of degradation, I want to reread Invisible Man with a new sense of understanding and appreciation.
Alan A. Mazurek
Great Neck, New York
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein’s article on Ralph Ellison prompted me to reread Invisible Man. Doing so has been therapeutic for someone exhausted by the current preoccupation with social justice. Put off by the incessant reminders of our racist legacy, I, ironically, needed reminding of the true abuse that Negroes (to use Ellison’s preferred term) have suffered in America. Invisible Man certainly does this. Remarkable is Ellison’s refusal to succumb to a mentality of bitter victimhood. As Epstein notes, Ellison’s heroes are Armstrong and Ellington, not Miles Davis. Inspirational. Thank you for publishing Epstein’s piece.
Robert C. Dunn Jr.