When Democrats took back control of the House last month, they also gained the ability to acquire President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Within hours of being projected to win the House in November’s midterms, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee confirmed they would seek Trump’s tax returns, which have been kept from the public even though disclosure has been standard for presidential candidates since Richard Nixon.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the chairman of the committee, can obtain the returns of any U.S. taxpayer for “confidential review.” But the White House has indicated it wouldn’t comply with any request from the committee, and Neal says there is no timetable for seeking the president’s tax documents.
“You’ve got to make sure all of our legal requirements are met,” he said recently.
As the new Congress was seated early last month, the 16-term Massachusetts Democrat faced increasing scrutiny from progressives over his “go-slow approach.” A spokesperson explained that Neal “wants to lay out a case about why presidents should be disclosing their tax returns before he formally forces him (Trump) to do it.”
“You’re going to have to, I think, resist the emotion of the moment and make sure your case is carefully documented,” Neal said in January. “This is likely to become the basis of a long and arduous court case. You can’t step on your tongue.”
In the meantime, Trump’s administration reportedly has made plans with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who would be tasked with responding to Neal’s inquiry — to “drag the expected Democratic request … into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments” that could stretch into or beyond the 2020 election.
“What happens if the Treasury secretary just doesn’t answer or sends back a note saying we refuse to do what you are saying? To my knowledge, that has never happened,” a former congressional chief of staff told Politico. “We are essentially in uncharted territory if he refuses.”
The White House apparently plans to use the threat of leaks as its primary argument to avoid providing Neal’s committee with the president’s tax returns. Federal employees who disclose confidential tax information are committing a felony and face up to five years in jail.
But Democrats could vote to make the president’s returns public. After Ways and Means obtains the president’s taxes, the committee would have to sign off on any move to release them.
Talking Points Memo reported that a House hearing scheduled for Thursday on “Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns” will be the next key step for Neal before formally requesting Trump’s tax returns.
After the New York Times reported in October 2016 that Trump may not have paid any federal income taxes for decades before announcing his candidacy, the now-president claimed “That makes me smart.”
Sixty percent of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC News poll last month said Democrats should try “to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns.”