After Democrats won control of the House of Representatives last November, many wondered whether they would use their newfound power to obtain President Trump’s tax returns. Three months after taking over the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) has done just that.
On Wednesday, Neal sent a letter to the IRS formally requesting six years of the president’s tax forms.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) April 3, 2019
The two-page letter delivered to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig is not a subpoena. Neal is exercising the authority the tax code grants to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees to request any American’s tax information. “I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect,” said Neal. “This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration.”
Though presidential candidates traditionally release their returns to the public during their campaign, Trump refused to do so in 2016, leaving Americans to wonder what could be contained within his financial filings. Given the abundance of misdeeds contained within every other aspect of the president’s personal and professional life, it stands to reason his returns could contain reveal plenty of conflicts of interest, at the very least.
Trump’s go-to excuse for why he isn’t able to release his tax returns has been that he’s under audit by the IRS. “In interview I told @AP that my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!” he tweeted in May 2016. He used the same excuse Wednesday after Neal filed his request. “We’re under audit despite what people said, and we’re working that out,” Trump told reporters. “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.” He added that he is “not inclined” to release his returns at this point.
Trump says he's "not inclined" to meet House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal's request for 6 years of tax returns pic.twitter.com/RbltTc81Wx
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) April 3, 2019
But Neal’s request was not sent to the president — it went to the IRS. The Ways and Means Committee chairman also accounted for the audit excuse. Once a president takes office, the IRS is obligated to perform a yearly audit of their tax filings. Neal writes that the two-page letter Neal he delivered to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig is part of an effort for the committee to oversee “the extent to which the IRS audits and enforces the federal tax laws against a president.” In other words, the fact that the president is being audited is part of the legal basis for the request.
“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,” Neal said in a statement, adding that “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.”
So does this mean Trump’s tax returns will finally be released? Not exactly. The IRS is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who isn’t likely to authorize Rettig to do anything that would reflect poorly on the president. Though the law is pretty clear, Republicans in Congress have already pushed back on the request. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) even wrote a letter to Mnuchin telling him to reject the request. “@HouseDemocrats latest misguided effort to impeach is a violation of law & Committee authority,” he wrote on Twitter. “Weaponizing our tax code sets a dangerous precedent & weakens Americans’ privacy right.”
.@HouseDemocrats latest misguided effort to impeach is a violation of law & Committee authority. Weaponizing our tax code sets a dangerous precedent & weakens Americans’ privacy right.
— Rep. Kevin Brady (@RepKevinBrady) April 3, 2019
On Thursday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t say whether Trump will instruct the IRS to abide by the law and relinquish his taxes or if he will fight the request. “We’re not interested in playing a bunch of political games like the Democrats in Congress clearly want to spend their time doing,” she said before referring reporters to the comments the president made on Wednesday.
Neal gave the IRS until April 10th to comply with the request. If it refuses to do so, a subpoena could be issued, which could set off a legal battle. According to two administration officials spoken to by the Washington Post, Trump has no plans to allow Mnuchin to honor the request, and is willing to take the issue to the Supreme Court in an effort to delay a potential release until after the 2020 election. Sounds like somebody with nothing to hide.