Ways and Means chair requests Trump tax returns from IRS

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., submitted a formal request Wednesday to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig asking for copies of President Trump’s individual and business tax returns going back to 2013.

“Consistent with its authority, the committee is considering legislative proposals and conducting oversight related to our Federal tax laws, including, but not limited to, the extent to which the IRS audits and enforces the Federal tax laws against a President,” Neal wrote in his letter to Rettig.

Trump defied four decades of precedent and refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying they were under audit by the IRS, and he has continued to refuse to release them. Democrats have been demanding the president’s tax returns and it has become more of an issue since they took control of the House in last November’s elections.

“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 Wednesday explaining his 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. 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. 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.”

Neal has promised to seek Trump’s tax returns and has come under pressure from fellow Democrats, but has insisted he has needed to be careful to lay the legal groundwork first. He has also come under criticism for not releasing his own tax returns either.

“I today submitted to IRS Commissioner Rettig my request for six years of the president’s personal tax returns as well as the returns for some of his business entities,” said Neal. “We have completed the necessary groundwork for a request of this magnitude and I am certain we are within our legitimate legislative, legal and oversight rights. I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect. 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. My actions reflect an abiding reverence for our democracy and our institutions, and are in no way based on emotion of the moment or partisanship. I trust that in this spirit, the IRS will comply with federal law and furnish me with the requested documents in a timely manner.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) criticizes the Republican tax plan during a news conference in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol November 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. Neal cited studies published by the Whorton School of Business and Goldman Sachs that said the GOP's predictions of economic growth are not realistic and would end up threatening social welfare programs. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trump's attorneys are likely to argue that the IRS and Congress can't release private tax information, but there have been precedents during the Nixon administration and during the more recent scandal over IRS approvals of tax-exempt applications from Tea Party groups.

Trump replied dismissively when asked about the six years of tax returns requested by Democrats, and indicated he wouldn't turn over the information while he remains under audit. "Is that all?" he said. "Oh, usually it's 10. So I guess they're giving up. We're under audit, but despite what people said and we're working that as 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 are audited, but until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, backed the request from Neal. “The law is crystal clear — the Treasury Department must provide tax returns to the Ways & Means and Finance Committees when the chairman requests them. I expect the Treasury Department to comply in a timely manner,” Wyden said in a statement. “Chairman [Chuck] Grassley should make the same request so Senate Finance Committee members are also able to access them.”

Grassley, however, blasted the request for Trumps tax returns. “I’ve heard a lot about the desire of the new House majority to engage in oversight of the current administration. I will put my record of oversight up against anyone’s record," he said. "However, I want my colleagues to know that I do not intend to engage in political fishing expeditions. I think a person like me that’s had an equal opportunity approach to oversight, treating Republican administrations the same as Democratic administrations, speaks for itself. So, I will not go along with efforts to weaponize the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes. Such an action would be unprecedented.”

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, was also critical. He wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin objecting to his colleague's request. “Weaponizing our nation’s tax code by targeting political foes sets a dangerous precedent and weakens American’s privacy rights," said Brady. "As you know, by law all Americans have a fundamental right to the privacy of the personal information found in their tax returns. This particular request is an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority, and violates the intent and safeguards of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code as Congress intended.”

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has similarly been pursuing the financial statements of Trump's businesses from his accounting firm, Mazars USA (see House Democrats seek Trump financial statements from Mazars USA). The ranking Republicans on that committee and one of its subcommittees, Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also sent a letter last week to Mazars USA CEO Victor Wahba discouraging him from cooperating with the Democrats' request. The firm reportedly agreed Wednesday to provide the requested information to the committee as long as Cummings issues a subpoena, which Cummings said he would do.

"The accounting firm told us that they will respond, and they just want a subpoena," said Cummings, according to the Daily Mail. "They have told us that they will provide the information pretty much when they have a subpoena. And we'll get them a subpoena."

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