Trump's tax returns may not come as quickly as some think
WASHINGTON — President Trump is the only president since 1976 to keep his tax returns private, making Democrats eager to obtain the documents. But progressive lawmakers may not get their wish immediately, despite now being back in control of the House and more importantly, the Ways and Means Committee.
There are a number of reasons why the process might take some time. One reason is that Democrats might wait to even formally request the returns through a law that allows certain committee heads to compel the Treasury Secretary to hand them over.
Dan Rubin, a spokesman for Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, said he "wants to lay out a case about why presidents should be disclosing their tax returns before he formally forces him to do it."
"He is a very policy-driven person, and I think he sees that if we break the glass and pull that alarm, you won't get anything done after that," he added.
In addition, the long and drawn out leadership race, in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to spend considerable time courting and turning members to support her bid, delayed the process even further, Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes told INSIDER.
"Richie Neal and every other chair [are] still getting their committees formed," he said. "We got delayed a couple of weeks in terms of all of that process because of leadership and all the rest of it."
"The committees are now convening. They're going to figure out who their new members are, they're going to sit down with their new members, they're going to say 'what are your priorities, what are you going to see come first, second, or third?'" Sarbanes added. "They're going to try to put all that into a rational agenda for that particular committee, whether it's oversight or legislative initiative — you're in February. I don't regard that as foot-dragging, I think it's just a matter of being deliberate."
Sarbanes, who has his own bill that would require all presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns, noted that many of the planned oversight will have to take some time due to what he views as a difference in governing style from Republicans.
"The public is worn out, is fatigued from this kind of shoot-from-the-hip way of governing up here Washington, which is represented by Donald Trump and the Republicans," he said. "Steadiness doesn't mean going slow, it just means doing it smart."
And when they pull the trigger, the White House has legal options to delay a release of tax returns even further.
University of Iowa law professor Andy Grewel wrote in the Yale Journal on Regulation that "if Congress wants to collect information from the executive branch or other outsiders, it must do so in connection with its legislative power."
"That is, a Congressional attempt to investigate an official or request information from him is valid only to the extent it serves proper legislative purposes," Grewel added, citing Supreme Court precedent. "Congress cannot simply engage in 'a fruitless investigation into the personal affairs of individuals.'"
Still, Democrats are confident they will be able to get the tax returns through the Ways and Means Committee, which they can then vote to make public.
"The law is on our side," New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell told INSIDER. "No question about it."