Politico has reported that the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is expected to demand President Trump’s personal tax returns. Trump has fought against this demand in the past and he and his administration will do the same now, likely by using arcane legal arguments.
The request will be cast as a partisan exercise by officials. Four people familiar with the administration’s approach explained that the scheme will be two-pronged with the goal of keeping the president’s returns private. The strategy depends on a democrat leaking Trump’s tax information, which is a felony, if the IRS gives them the documents. Officials will argue that because democrats can’t be trusted to keep documents private, they shouldn’t get them in the first place. Officials in the Treasury have been waiting for a democrat to make the request since January.
The fight between the democrats and the treasury could continue for months.
“What happens if the Treasury secretary just doesn’t answer or sends back a note saying we refuse to do what you are saying?” said George Yin, a former chief of staff on the House Joint Committee on Taxation. “To my knowledge, that has never happened. … We are essentially in uncharted territory if he refuses.”
A Treasury Department spokeswoman said, “Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin will review any request with the Treasury General Counsel for legality.”
Typically, presidential candidates release their tax returns during their campaigns. Trump did not release his returns because of an alleged ongoing IRS audit. His refusal sparked concern about what he could be hiding in his tax returns.
The fight will put Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of Trump’s most loyal aides, against Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal, the Democratic chair of the tax writing House Ways and Means Committee.
“The Democratic leadership and the president will demand political theater on this, and that component is out of character for Mnuchin,” said one Republican. “He will have to make sure he is articulating his points to keep Republicans in line on the Hill and keep the president supportive. That is not his natural skill set.”
Democrats have a fairly unequivocal legal standing to request Trump’s tax returns. “From the standpoint of the law, it could not be more straightforward or clear. That is the easy part,” said Yin.
Three congressional committees are able to request the tax returns of an individual or business, but whatever the committees find must remain private, which is in issue for Democrats. If a federal employee leaks tax information, it is considered a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
The House Ways and Means Committee will need to vote as a committee before making Trump’s tax returns public. This could potentially take weeks. Representative Richard Neal has not yet asked the Treasury Department for Trump’s tax returns, which has angered members of his caucus. A democratic congressional aide says Neal intends to ask but does not have a time frame for doing so.