The Pandora Papers: How Senators are going to shine a light on the secretive names of Americans hiding assets offshore

And for a new America, please watch. The question of how President Trump’s proposed tariffs on aluminum and steel might affect Canadian business is looming, but the answer is so, so complicated.

And while the U.S. Senate prepares to do its constitutional thing to block Mr. Trump from “interfering” in trade negotiations, a key congressional committee yesterday announced that it would block access to the Pandora Papers, a new list of more than 2,500 Americans, which dates back to the 1950s.

The list was prepared by the Department of Justice for its tax evasion crackdown, which let U.S. firms off the hook with a “tax advantage,” meaning they could set up offshore accounts and benefit from a lower tax rate. The Pandora Papers has itself been the subject of a string of criticism over what it may have uncovered about Americans, including some in the executive branch.

But now, a different Senate committee — this one comprised of Democrats and Republicans — is going to help lead the effort to reveal the contents. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday announced that it will be releasing a book, with the first chapters set to appear on Thursday, and at a tourney on Sept. 1. But what is it, exactly? Here’s what’s known so far.

Who has been named? There are 700 individuals and businesses on the Pandora Papers, but the 700 list is by no means exhaustive. The Treasury Department, through its Office of the Inspector General, can provide a much better list of who is on the list, but it hasn’t yet released the list. Instead, the Treasury Department released a short list of 43 additional businesses and individuals that it said it was investigating. A Treasury spokesperson declined to comment when asked how long the criminal investigations will take.

What is the problem and why didn’t Canada lay a charge? The Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General first uncovered a list of more than 2,500 U.S. taxpayers who had offshore accounts in tax havens. The release of the Pandora Papers occurred under the Obama administration. The list spawned “scores of lawsuits” across the country, Reuters reported in May, and the House Republicans tried, unsuccessfully, to impose a Congressional investigation on the matter. In May, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC: “We’re very serious about the offshore issue.” And when asked whether he thought there should be a criminal investigation, Mr. Mnuchin said “I would assume so.” But Mr. Mnuchin seemed to be more confident about such a matter than Mr. Trump. The Treasury Department confirmed to The New York Times in May that there was no criminal investigation.

Who is investigated and what can be gleaned from that investigation? The Treasury Department has “reviewed” — that sounds like a “CIA spook term” — 37 people and businesses it deemed as having “substantial ties to offshore accounts,” the Times reported, and has said that its probe into those 40 individuals includes some officials within the Department of Treasury and Customs and Border Protection. And once a portion of the list is released — to the full Treasury Department — the Finance Committee will be able to see more who had, in a broad sense, the ability to use offshore accounts as a way to avoid paying taxes. There are four U.S. corporations on the list:

Texas-based AT&T

U.S. Gypsum (now part of OIAP)


SkyWest Airlines

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department’s inspector general said that companies are not in danger of being indicted, the Times reported. They’re safe because of a Justice Department interpretation of tax evasion law that narrowed the Treasury Department’s investigative role. (There may be more on the list in the near future, if Justice decides to push for criminal charges.) Mr. Mnuchin on Tuesday also called the Pandora Papers a “major investigation” on which the Treasury Department will be “striving to get answers.” Will Trump sign this Pandora Papers bill? The Pandora Papers is expected to be voted out of the Finance Committee. The prospect of a criminal investigation in the administration led by a man who famously says he sees no problem with criminal investigations of Hillary Clinton is inviting. Republicans want to ram this bill through as part of their campaign to pass tax cuts that are good for businesses, but which will hurt low-income Americans. Mr. Trump has not said if he supports the bill, though he’s praised the fact that the bill is “terrific.”

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