The battle over President Trump’s tax returns, which was fought through most of the 2016 campaign and periodically since then, is about to resume.
Hours after Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives, the man in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee said in an interview that the committee would seek to obtain the president’s tax returns.
“Yes, I think we will,” Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., told MassLive on Wednesday. The chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee is one of a few members of Congress with the power to request an individual tax return from the Internal Revenue Service.
Neal said he hoped that Trump would voluntarily release his tax documents before the committee is compelled to file a request for them.
“I think it’s is a reminder that it has to be done so that legally it meets the law. I think that there are some precedents for this,” Neal said. “But, I hope that the president would do this on his own, largely because every president since Gerald R. Ford has voluntarily done this.”
Neal is likely to be disappointed.
At a contentious White House news conference Wednesday, Trump made it clear that he had no intention of voluntarily disclosing his returns to members of the House.
“They’re under audit. They have been for a long time. They’re extremely complex, people wouldn’t understand them,” Trump said when asked if he might simply make the returns available to lawmakers. “They’re done by among the biggest and best law firms in the country, the same thing with the accounting firms. The accountants are a very large, powerful firm from the standpoint of respect. They’re highly respected. Big firm, a great law firm.”
Trump is the first president in decades to withhold his tax returns from public view and Democrats believe that they could answer questions about his ties to the Russian government in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, as well as illuminate ways in which he and his family avoided enormous tax bills, as detailed in an explosive New York Times investigation.
As he has since the presidential campaign, Trump said Wednesday that an audit of his taxes by the Internal Revenue Service prevents him from releasing his returns. He acknowledged that there is no legal impediment to making them public, but insisted that his lawyers and accountants have advised him against it.
“When you’re under audit, and I’m under a very continuous audit, because there are so many companies and it is a big company, far bigger than you would even understand, but it’s a great company,” Trump said, adding, “But if I were finished with the audit, I would have an open mind to it, I would say that, but I don’t want to do it during the audit.”
Trump has not released any documents, such as a letter from the IRS, that would back up his claims to be under audit. It would not be unusual for the agency to examine the returns of someone of Trump’s wealth, although audits are usually closed after a period of years.
Neal predicted that a congressional request for the president’s tax returns would likely result in a court case.
Writing in Yale University’s Notice & Comment, Andy Grewal summed up the legal justification that Democrats in the House may use to support their request for Trump’s tax documents.
“The statutory authority for any congressional requests would probably come from Sections 6103(f)(1) & (2) of the tax code. Under (f)(1), some committees of Congress can request disclosure of Trump’s returns and can examine those returns privately. Under (f)(2), a non-partisan career official, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), may also request and privately examine those returns,” Grewal wrote.
He noted, though, that courts have ruled that a request to see returns must serve a public, not just a political, purpose.
When the new members of Congress are sworn in next January, Neal will likely assume his new role on the Ways and Means Committee.
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