Putin summit puts spotlight back on Trump's tax returns

President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day 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 WarnerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Dems see path to deal on climate provisions Sanders faces difficult choice on slimmed-down budget bill Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Methane fee faces negotiations 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 PascrellProgressive poll finds support for solar energy tax credit legislation Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda LIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup 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 On The Money — Senate Democrats lay out their tax plans Senate Democrats propose corporate minimum tax for spending package Elon Musk rips Democrats' billionaire tax plan 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 WhitehouseSenate Democrats blast Supreme Court on one-year anniversary of Barrett's confirmation Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Under pressure, Democrats cut back spending 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 SanfordBritain checking gun license applicants' social media, medical records Mark Sanford calls Graham 'a canary in the coalmine' on GOP's relationship with Trump Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave 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 HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Yellen confident of minimum global corporate tax passage in Congress 136 countries agree to deal on global minimum tax 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 NealDemocrats haggle as deal comes into focus Manchin objects to IRS bank-reporting proposal Yellen should utilize the resources available before pushing new regulations 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California 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.”