Dispute Trumps taxes well before the court - view

Clay Curtis
May 21, 2019

The House Ways and Means Committee subpoenaed the treasury secretary and IRS commissioner earlier this month for Trump's tax returns from the last six years, following a request made to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in early April.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler's panel voted last week to recommend that the House cite Attorney General William Barr with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's unredacted Russian Federation investigation report.

Democrats claim that Trump's business dealings present a host of potential conflicts of interest that they can't understand without his tax information.

The expected court battle is part of the broader clash between House Democrats and the White House over a range of oversight issues, as Democrats on the intelligence and judiciary committees have pushed for many documents, particularly related to the special counsel investigation, that the Trump administration has refused to release. An attempt to enforce a subpoena related to a botched Justice Department investigation during President Barack Obama's administration extended well into the Trump administration.

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A House Democratic committee chairman had warned that if the Treasury Department did not comply with a 5 p.m. deadline Friday to hand over President Trump's tax returns, he'd likely to sue the department "as quickly as next week". In response to Neal's earlier requests, Mnuchin has said Democrats merely want to expose Trump's private information for political purposes.

In a new letter, Mnuchin again says the request "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose" and that he is "not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information". "I think that the better option for us is to proceed with a court case".

Neal said he would discuss the next steps with committee lawyers. In the past, those court battles between the executive and Congress, chairmen have first moved to go hold officials in contempt for not cooperating before going to a judge. Nadler has threatened to hold former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt, if he fails to show up for a hearing slated for Tuesday. Neal told CNN Friday he has closely followed the advice of House counsel. The same law mandates the Treasury Secretary "to furnish" the returns upon request. House Democrats have expressed confidence the law requires the IRS to permit them to access the document, a position supported by numerous legal experts.

The Treasury secretary has warned that allowing House Democrats to retrieve the president's tax returns would open the door to lawmakers from both parties politicizing the Internal Revenue Service in the future. In order to potentially enshrine it in law, Neal has said he needs to see the President's tax returns.

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