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Putin summit puts spotlight back on Trump's tax returns

President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE’s tax returns are back in the spotlight after his private one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s comments during a joint press conference with Putin on Monday alarmed lawmakers, leading some to wonder about the president’s possible financial ties to Russia.

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Democrats have since stepped up their calls to have Congress request Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department in order to learn more about the president’s finances.

“I think we have a cloud that hangs over this whole administration at this moment in time,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Trump broke with tradition when he became the first major-party presidential candidate in decades to refuse to release his tax returns, citing an ongoing IRS audit, even though the IRS has said audits do not prevent people from releasing their own tax information.

Lawyers for Trump said in a March 2017 letter that “with a few exceptions,” Trump’s tax returns from the previous 10 years didn’t reflect income from Russian sources, debt owed to Russian lenders or investments in Russian entities. As president-elect, Trump said at a press conference in January 2017 that he doesn't think voters care about his tax returns.

In the early months of his presidency, Democrats tried unsuccessfully several times to get him to release the returns or to have Congress request them.

Under federal law, the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee and Joint Committee on Taxation can request tax returns from the Treasury Department and then view the documents in a closed session.

The issue of Trump’s tax returns had become less prominent in recent months. But that changed following last week’s joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, when Trump questioned the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDemocrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Democrats urge IRS to extend tax-filing season MORE (D-N.J.), a leader of congressional efforts to get Trump’s tax returns, brought up the topic Wednesday during a Ways and Means Committee markup of Social Security legislation.

“This committee could act right now to hold this president to account,” he said. “We must know if Mr. Putin has compromised our commander in chief.”

The next day, Warner and other Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee addressed the matter when the panel was debating the nomination of Trump’s pick to lead the IRS, Charles Rettig.

Every Democrat on the committee voted against Rettig’s nomination, despite saying he’s qualified, because of concerns about new IRS guidance ending a requirement that certain tax-exempt groups disclose information about donor identities. Democrats are worried the guidance will make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. politics — a concern exacerbated by Trump’s recent behavior.

“The president’s refusal to adhere to a 40-year plus, bipartisan, pro-transparency tradition of releasing tax returns, after what happened this Monday, can go on no longer,” said Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Raimondo has won confirmation, but the fight to restrict export technology to China continues Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra MORE (D-Ore.).

Wyden told reporters that he plans to meet with Rettig and ask him about Trump’s tax returns and correcting the new IRS guidance.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseFBI director commits to providing Senate information after grilling from Democrat Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda Tucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon MORE (D-R.I.), who said Trump’s behavior around Putin couldn’t be more humiliating than if the president “had been dragged out on a leash and done pet tricks,” said viewing Trump’s tax returns could help lawmakers understand the president’s behavior.

In addition to Democrats, GOP Rep. Mark SanfordMark Sanford5 lawyers leave Trump impeachment team ahead of trial: reports South Carolina GOP votes to censure Rep. Rice over impeachment vote Trump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial MORE (S.C.) recently reiterated his desire for the administration to make the returns public.

Sanford, who lost his primary to a Trump-backed challenger, told The Hill that it would be in the administration’s best interest to release the returns because “transparency on that front answers a lot of questions.”

“If not, people are left to wonder,” he added.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHow President Biden can hit a home run Mellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyForeign perpetrators among fraudsters shamming state's unemployment systems Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda New CDC guidance ends up deepening debate over reopening schools MORE (R-Texas) — two lawmakers with the authority to request Trump’s returns from Treasury — continue to oppose efforts to obtain the documents.

When asked if there’s renewed interest in requesting them in light of the Helsinki summit, Brady replied, “No.”

Hatch said he “doesn’t see any real justification” for requesting Trump’s returns and doesn’t think the president’s returns would show financial ties to Russia.

That kind of stonewalling frustrates Pascrell.

“House Republicans have been complicit and have blocked over a dozen attempts to expose Trump’s personal finances to disinfecting light,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “But I’m undeterred. I’ll stay locked on the Trump tax returns like a junkyard dog until we see them.”

Democrats could benefit politically from focusing on Trump’s tax returns. A Quinnipiac University poll from February found that two-thirds of voters think the president should make his returns public.

“It is a good issue for Democrats to highlight because there is a strong desire to see what is in Trump’s tax returns,” said Tim Hogan, spokesman for Not One Penny, a liberal group focused on tax reform.

If Democrats win control of at least one chamber of Congress in the November midterm elections, they would have the ability to request Trump’s returns from the Treasury Department. But right now it’s unclear whether they would do so.

Wyden said he wasn’t going to speculate on whether he would make the request if he becomes chairman. The top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOcasio-Cortez: wage only 'socialist' to those in 'dystopian capitalist nightmare' Bottom line Democrats adjust language on child tax credit in relief bill MORE (Mass.), said in a statement that he’s currently focused on other issues, such as lowering health-care costs and providing the middle class with tax relief.

“There will be plenty of time in the future to determine if this course of action is necessary, but Democrats want to ensure that committee time and resources are always being used for the people, to better the lives of the American family,” he said.

But there’s one person who may already have a copy of Trump’s tax returns: special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE.

There has been some speculation in the press about whether Mueller has a copy of Trump’s returns as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Steven Cash, an attorney at Day Pitney and former chief counsel to Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget China has already infiltrated America's institutions MORE (D-Calif.), said he wouldn’t be surprised if Mueller has obtained Trump’s returns.

Cash said that if Mueller “has determined that the tax returns are relevant and appropriate, he would have taken the legal steps to get them and would have them now.”