- Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
- Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee have requested six years of President Trump’s tax returns using an old law as justification.
- The White House is resisting, saying the request is for obvious political reasons.
- But Republicans revealed private tax information during their 2014 probe of officials in President Barack Obama’s administration.
WASHINGTON – Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee are now in full swing in their request for President Donald Trump’s tax returns. But the White House is resisting the request, signaling this fight is long from over.
The Democrats are using an old law as justification for the request while Republicans are pushing back and trying to make the case that such demands are unlawful, despite their own similar attempts from when they were in the majority and conducted various probes of the Barack Obama administration.
Ways & Means, the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation can request 10 years of anyone’s tax returns from the secretary of the Treasury Department. This is permitted through section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code.
The law allowing Congress to obtain tax returns from individuals in the executive branch stems from corruption probes in 1924. In the modern political era, presidents both in office and as candidates have voluntarily released their tax returns as a show of transparency.
For example, several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have already released their returns while some others are repeatedly delaying, like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
But Trump never did, both as a candidate in 2016 and during his first two years in the White House.
Fast forward to last Wednesday, when Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who chairs the Ways & Means Committee, made it official and requested six years of Trump’s taxes from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
Neal and the rest of the Democrats on the committee justified this request as a way of examining how the IRS audits sitting presidents and vice president, as is customary. The committee gave the administration an April 10 deadline to furnish the returns.
But Trump – and a host of other Republicans – fired back, accusing Neal of mounting a nakedly political fishing expedition and abuse of privacy rights. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Democrats will “never” obtain Trump’s taxes.
“Nor should they,” Mulvaney said in a Sunday interview on Fox News. “That’s an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns. They knew that he didn’t and they elected him anyway.”
Trump’s personal lawyers said a request for the president’s tax returns must be part of an actual legislative process, which they do not believe is the current case.
But Democrats say they are doing it for the purpose of reviewing how presidents are audited, which Trump cited as the reason he cannot comply.
“I’m under audit,” Trump said during a trip to California last week. “When you’re under audit you don’t do it.”
As a result, the White House is not complying, increasing the likelihood of the Wednesday deadline coming around where Democrats will still have obtained nothing, marking another chapter in the fight over Trump’s personal finances.
Republicans have used this method for their own purposes in the past
In 2014, Republicans controlled Congress and used their power on the Ways & Means Committee to make returns public for a number of individuals who they said were unfairly targeted by then-IRS Exempt Organizations Unit Director Lois Lerner.
The Committee voted along strict party lines to refer Lerner to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation. In doing so, they included private tax information, which was then made public in the release of the referral.
The move was heavily criticized at the time, with some questioning whether the big tax information reveal was an illegal act by the committee.
“I would hope that someone writing a letter like that would have recited in the letter to the Department of Justice that they had received an appropriate authorization to disclose the protected information,” said former IRS official Marcus Owens in 2014. “It strikes me that in order to restore some sense of integrity to the congressional process, there has to be some statement about whether or not the rules were violated here, and there has to be an explanation about why they were not violated if that indeed is the view.”
And Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, who sits on the Ways & Means Committee and has been adamant about getting Trump’s tax returns, told INSIDER in November they have complete justification, citing past Republican attempts when they were in the majority.
“It’s been done before. “When these bozos took 50 returns from people because they were going after the IRS chairman. They did it and they found nothing. Then embarrassed each one of them. That’s going without cause. We’re doing it with cause. The president has 540 properties all over the world. We want to see if there’s any conflict of interest there.”
Whether the committee makes Trump’s tax returns public is still up in the air of significant legal dispute. In the meantime, they still will have to fight tooth and nail to get the returns in the first place to review behind closed doors – and the White House is showing no signs of cooperation.