Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee

Senate panel advances Trump IRS nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday advanced President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE’s nominee to lead the IRS, with Democrats voting against the pick to voice their opposition to new IRS guidance that they’re concerned poses a national security risk.

The committee approved Charles Rettig’s nomination to be IRS commissioner on a party line vote of 14-13.

Both Republicans and Democrats said they think Rettig — a California tax attorney who has spent his career representing taxpayers in disputes with the IRS — is a qualified nominee.

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“I thank Mr. Rettig for his willingness to serve, and I am confident that because of his many years of experience with the tax system, if confirmed, Mr. Rettig will lead the agency with integrity,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Health Care: Azar defends approach on drug rebates | Trump presses Senate to act quickly on opioid crisis | Kentucky governor's Medicaid lawsuit tossed Sentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies Dem lawmaker calls Trump racist in response to 'dog' comment MORE (R-Utah) said.

But while Democrats also praised Rettig’s background, they decided to vote against him because of guidance released late Monday by the Treasury Department and IRS that limits some tax-exempt groups’ disclosure of donor information to the agency.

“The Trump administration has taken a qualified nominee and dumped him right into the middle of a dark money political firestorm of their own creation,” said Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGroup files lawsuit to force Georgia to adopt paper ballots Treasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law Rubio slams Google over plans to unveil censored Chinese search engine MORE (D-Ore.).

Under the guidance, many types of tax-exempt organizations — including social-welfare groups such as the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by conservative brothers Charles and David Koch — will no longer have to provide the IRS with the names and addresses of significant donors on annual forms.

While conservatives cheered the guidance, arguing that it will help prevent taxpayers from being targeted for their political beliefs, Democrats are concerned that it will make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. politics through “dark money” donations.

“It jeopardizes our national security,” said Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Businesses fear blowback from Russia sanctions bill Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech MORE (D-Md.). “It allows for us not to have transparency in our political system.”

Democrats noted that the guidance was released on the same day that the Justice Department announced charges against a Russian national for conspiring to act as an agent of the Russian government by infiltrating organizations with influence in American politics.

The guidance also came the same day that Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then questioned the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election during a press conference where he stood next to Putin. Trump later said he misspoke but continued to equivocate.

“When you have dark money, you have an avenue for foreign influence that by definition you cannot police,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans Dems call for investigation of Trump Air Force One tours MORE (D-R.I.). “And why, in this world in which every red light is blinking, according to our own [director of national intelligence] about Russian election interference, why we would want to expand this avenue, not narrow it?"

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Pentagon says Trump canceled parade before cost briefing | Erik Prince renews push for contractors to run Afghan war | More officials join outcry over security clearances Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances Schumer blasts Trump over security clearances: This happens in dictatorships MORE (D-Va.), who serves on the Finance Committee and also is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was prepared to vote for Rettig up until a few days ago, but can’t because of the new guidance.

“With this most recent move by the Treasury Department to actually allow more dark money in, I can’t support Mr. Rettig at this point,” he said.

Wyden said the panel should hold a hearing on the new Treasury guidance, and that the Finance Committee needs to review Trump’s tax returns. Other Democrats on the panel also echoed the request for a review of the presidents’ returns, which Hatch could request from Treasury so they could be viewed in a closed meeting.

But Hatch told reporters Thursday that he’s not in favor of requesting Trump’s returns at the moment, and said he didn’t expect that the president’s returns would show financial ties to Russia. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTreasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law Republicans happy to let Treasury pursue 0 billion tax cut Trump weighs big tax cut for rich: report MORE (R-Texas), who also has the power to request Trump’s tax returns from Treasury, said separately Thursday that he doesn’t plan to make such a request.

During the Finance Committee’s meeting on Rettig’s nomination, Hatch noted that the nominee personally was not involved in the IRS guidance limiting donor reporting.

And Hatch praised the guidance as “commendable,” arguing the IRS doesn’t need the donor information and that requiring the information in the past has posed a risk to taxpayers’ security.

“I can understand, perhaps, because of the comments made here today that [Democrats] have very distinct irritations with the president, but that should not stop us from getting a good IRS commissioner,” he said.

Rettig is nominated to fill the remainder of a five-year term ending in November 2022.

If confirmed, Rettig will be tasked with leading the IRS as it works to implement the tax law Trump signed in December. He also will have to work to address the agency’s many other challenges, including outdated technology, threats from cyber criminals and concerns about customer service.

Rettig said during his confirmation hearing that his overall goal as IRS commissioner would be to restore trust in the agency, which is particularly important as the IRS works to implement the tax law. He also said he would work to keep the IRS free from political interference.