TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, February 26, 2018

Former Davis Polk Tax Partner Dana Trier Quits Position As Deputy Assistant Secretary For Tax Policy

Wall Street Journal, Treasury Official, Critical of Parts of Tax Law, Quits:

A Treasury Department official deeply involved in implementing the new tax law left the government unexpectedly this week.

Dana Trier, a retired New York attorney praised by fellow tax lawyers in both parties, was a deputy assistant secretary for tax policy, putting him near the center of administration decision-making about how to write the crucial and highly technical rules stemming from the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Accountants, tax lawyers and businesses have been watching his actions and speeches closely for clues on how the Trump Administration will enforce complex new deductions for pass-through businesses, restrictions on business interest deductions and other matters. ...

Tax-focused publications had previously written about some of Mr. Trier’s remarks that were critical of parts of the new tax law, including a speech earlier this month in San Diego at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Tax Section. ... In San Diego, Mr. Trier had said people looking at pieces of the new law sometimes asked him whether lawmakers could have reasonably meant to write it the way they did. “We’re going to have trouble with about half the legislation if we apply that standard,” said Mr. Trier, whose name rhymes with clear.

Late Friday, Mr. Trier, 69 years old, said he and Assistant Secretary David Kautter agreed that he should leave. “Between these public comments and the constant friction with the bureaucratic elements of the government, I really just think…it was time to go,” Mr. Trier said. “I have enough of a big ego to think that they’ve lost something when they’ve lost me, but I think they can do it.”

Mr. Trier’s performances veered from the cautious style of other Treasury and IRS officials on the tax-law speaking circuit. The rest of them talk carefully about soliciting input and gathering feedback, avoiding saying much that was pithy or opinionated.

Mr. Trier spoke in a stream-of-consciousness combination of self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation, punctuated with one-liners and technical references to Internal Revenue Code sections.

“I’m a trained assassin,” Mr. Trier told an audience of partnership and real-estate lawyers over grilled chicken salad and cold soup in San Diego. ...

In San Diego, he joked that the only administration official who hadn’t weighed in on tax policy was first lady Melania Trump. He recalled leaving early bill-drafting sessions in the House of Representatives with fears about how the proposals would be impossible to administer. He mused aloud, in front of the country’s most accomplished tax planners, about how the tax law would be a “feast” for tax planning.

But Mr. Trier said some of the worst fears about loopholes in the new law were overblown. “Those games that people play,” he said in San Diego, “were games that I played.”

He worked for many years at Davis, Polk and Wardwell in New York, where he was a senior tax partner with broad expertise across the tax code, especially in complex transactions and derivatives. ...

Before his departure, Republican and Democratic tax lawyers said they appreciated having a skilled, veteran tax practitioner in that job. “Dana is really one of the rock stars of tax,” said Joshua Odintz of Baker & McKenzie, who worked for Senate Finance Committee Democrats and in the Obama administration’s Treasury Department. “He really is one of the types of tax lawyers we would want in a position to help implement the new tax law.”

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