A day after Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, vowed that congressional Democrats would “never” see the president’s tax returns, the longest serving Republican in the Senate went on Fox News and admitted that Congress does in fact have the authority to access those documents.
House Democrats previously asked the Internal Revenue Service to release Trump’s tax returns by Wednesday this week, as part of their ongoing probes into the many investigations of Trump’s 2016 campaign, inaugural committee, and business matters. When pressed on this during an interview on Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney said adamantly, “Never. Nor should they.”
Grassley, who serves as both Senate president pro tempore and chair of the Finance Committee, said Monday he did not actually want to see Trump’s tax returns but acknowledged that, under the law, he and House Ways & Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) have the right to do so.
“As chairman of the finance committee we could have opportunity to see those too,” he told Fox & Friends, referring to Section 6103(f)(1) of the tax code, which explicitly gives chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation the right to receive any American’s tax returns upon request.
Grassley said he did not believe the Internal Revenue Service should be politicized — citing the debunked claim that, under President Barack Obama, conservative non-profits were targeted by the IRS for additional scrutiny.
However, he then explained precisely why the law was necessary and inadvertently made the case that Congress, in seeking to scrutinize Trump’s tax returns, had a legitimate legislative purpose to do so — something that Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, has argued that Democrats lack.
“If you need to write legislation, then maybe you need some information from people that are avoiding taxes or using tax loopholes, or maybe not finding a way to get out and you want to change the laws. That is the only reason you should be asking for tax returns,” Grassley said.
As it happens, Trump boasted in one of the 2016 presidential debates that he avoided paying federal taxes at all in some years, claiming, “That makes me smart.” He subsequently signed a 2017 tax bill that will likely further reduced the tax burden that he, his companies, and his family owe to the U.S. Treasury. And he has vaguely proposed additional tax cuts that could also impact his own bottom line.
Trump, who as a candidate initially promised to publicly release his tax returns, repeatedly said throughout his 2016 campaign that he was waiting to do so until after the completion of a “routine audit” by the IRS. On Wednesday, three years after those initial remarks, he repeated that claim — though no law prevents a person under audit from making their tax returns public.
“I’m under audit,” he said, speaking to reporters during a tour at the U.S.-Mexico border on April 5. “When you’re under audit, you don’t do it. But I’m under audit. Other people are under audit, and nobody would do it when you are going through an audit. And I always go through audits.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the section of tax code.