Democrats officially request Trump's tax returns

House Democrats have formally requested copies of President Trump’s tax returns, taking action on one of their top oversight priorities.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) sent a letter Wednesday to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns, from 2013-2018, by April 10.

“The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program," Neal said in a statement. "On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately."

"In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities," he added. "The Committee has a duty to examine whether Congressional action may be needed to require such audits, and to oversee that they are conducted properly."

A “Frequently Asked Questions” document from Neal’s office said the chairman requested six years of documents, in part, because of the amount of time that tax documents are generally available at the IRS.

The document states that Neal requested returns from the five business entities that constitute the core of the president’s businesses, as well as the returns for entities associated with Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J., that has been the subject of press reports about tax compliance.

The request marks a new front in Democrats’ efforts to investigate Trump and his administration. Democrats have long had an interest in examining Trump’s tax returns to learn about any conflicts of interest he may have involving foreign governments, as well as to see how he has been affected by the tax-cut law he signed in 2017.

But Neal focused his letter to Rettig on the Ways and Means Committee’s interest in reviewing the IRS’s audits and enforcement of tax laws against presidents.

"It is necessary for the Committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return," Neal wrote.

Along with his request for the returns, Neal asked for information about any audits of the tax filings. He also asked for administrative work files, such as workpapers and affidavits, associated with the returns.

Additionally, Neal requested that if Trump or any of his listed business entities hadn’t filed returns for any of the years specified, that the IRS issue a statement saying so.

Trump is the first president in decades not to make any of his tax returns public. He has cited an audit that dates back to before his administration began, but the IRS has said audits don’t prevent people from releasing their own tax information.

“We’re under audit, despite what people said, and we’re working that out," Trump told reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. "I’m always under audit, it seems. But I’ve been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name you’re audited."

“But until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he added.

A provision in the federal tax code gives the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees the power to ask for any tax returns and return information and examine them in a closed session. After reviewing the documents privately, a committee could vote to send a report to the full House or Senate, which could make some or all of the tax returns public.

The statute says that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” the documents, provided that they are reviewed in a closed session. But it’s unclear how quickly the IRS will respond and if they will provide Neal with the documents.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a hearing in March that he will consult with Treasury’s lawyers and follow the law.

An IRS spokesman said the agency didn’t have an immediate comment.

Many lawmakers and tax experts have said they expect the tax-returns issue to result in a lengthy court case, and those expectations prompted Neal to take his time before requesting the documents.

Neal had said he wouldn’t proceed until he felt his case was ready. That cautious approach to requesting Trump’s tax returns frustrated progressive groups who thought he should have acted more quickly to ensure that the House would obtain the documents before the midterm elections.

Tax March Executive Director Maura Quint said Wednesday that while her group had hoped Neal would request the returns sooner, the group trusts that the chairman “will effectively and efficiently manage this process to bring the American people answers about Trump’s numerous conflicts of interest, dubious tax schemes, and allegations of fraud.”

Since Democrats took control of the House in January, they have taken steps at hearings to build a case for the need to examine Trump’s tax returns.

Notably, Democrats have said the testimony of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February heightened the need to see the president’s tax filings. Cohen said Trump would undervalue his assets to lower his real estate tax bills, while also exaggerating the value of his assets for insurance purposes.

House Democrats also passed a wide-ranging election reform bill in March that would require presidents, vice presidents and major-party nominees for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns. But the Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to take up that legislation.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a leader in Democrats’ push to request Trump’s tax returns, said Democrats are prepared to fight if the IRS is resistant to providing Neal with the tax returns.

“If they want a fight, they’ll get a fight,” he told The Hill. “We are prepared legally and morally.”

Republicans have been critical of Democrats’ desire to obtain Trump’s tax returns, arguing that Democrats shouldn’t abuse the tax code for political purposes or invade taxpayers’ privacy.

Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) sent a letter to Mnuchin on Wednesday arguing that Neal’s request “is an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority” and violates the intent and safeguards of the tax code.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — who like Neal has the power to request tax returns from the Treasury Department — has said he doesn’t think anyone should be requesting Trump’s returns. However, he said that if House Democrats are successful in obtaining a copy of Trump’s tax returns, then he will also request a copy of the documents.

A Grassley spokesperson said Wednesday that “those seeking an individual’s personal tax returns to exact political damage would be opening the door to future abuses of power and would poison the public trust in the ability of the IRS to keep personal information private.”

Rettig is scheduled to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on April 10, and a House Appropriations subcommittee on April 9.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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