House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealConservatives urge Trump to take unilateral action to suspend payroll tax collection Treasury to conduct policy review of tax-exempt status for universities after Trump tweets Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility MORE (D-Mass.) on Friday announced that he has issued subpoenas for six years of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE’s tax returns, House Democrats' latest effort to obtain the returns.

Neal said he issued the subpoenas to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays MORE and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. The subpoenas direct the officials to send the information to the House panel by 5 p.m. on May 17.

"After reviewing the options available to me, and upon the advice of counsel, I issued subpoenas today to the Secretary of the Treasury and the Commissioner of the IRS for six years of personal and business returns," Neal said in a statement.

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"While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material," he said. "I sincerely hope that the Treasury Department will furnish the requested material in the next week so the committee can quickly begin its work.”

The announcement escalates the congressional fight over Trump's tax returns and comes days after Mnuchin rejected Neal’s request, first made April 3, for Trump’s personal and business tax returns from 2013 to 2018.

Neal made that request under Section 6103(f) of the federal tax code, which states that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” tax returns requested by a chairperson of a congressional tax committee, so long as the documents are viewed in a closed session.

When Mnuchin denied the request on Monday, he said it lacked a legitimate legislative purpose. He also said in a letter to Neal last month that he thinks Democrats’ goal is to obtain Trump’s tax returns “for the sake of exposure.”

Neal has maintained that the Ways and Means Committee is interested in conducting oversight of how the IRS audits and enforces tax laws against a president. The chairman reiterated Friday that he believes "that reviewing the requested documents is a necessary piece of the committee’s work."

In his letters to Mnuchin and Rettig enclosing the subpoenas, Neal defended his stated purpose for requesting Trump's tax returns, saying "it cannot be denied that legislation relating to IRS examination and enforcement is within the Committee's jurisdiction."

The Treasury Department has raised concerns in the past about Neal's stated purpose of wanting Trump's tax returns to examine how the IRS audits presidents, noting that he only requested tax returns from Trump and not other past presidents.

Neal pushed back, saying that such a concern "is misplaced and ignores the fact that the tax issues raised by the current President are unique."

He said that Trump is "markedly different" from previous presidents and vice presidents that the IRS has audited under its internal policy of auditing such office-holders. The chairman pointed to Trump's years-long audit – noting that it pre-dates his presidency – as well as his status as someone who controls many business entities and the volume of his tax returns.

The administration is not expected to immediately comply with Neal's subpoenas. Trump has already challenged other subpoenas that Democrats have issued for his financial records.

Neal had noted earlier in the week that lawmakers haven't been getting their desired responses to subpoenas. He said that he expects the matter to eventually end up in the courts.

A Treasury spokesperson confirmed Friday that the department had received the subpoena but did not provide any other comment.

Many Democratic lawmakers argue that the need to see Trump’s recent tax returns was boosted by a New York Times article published this week, based on copies of Trump’s tax transcripts, that the president reported more than $1 billion in business losses from 1985 and 1994.

But the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyStimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive Trump signs executive orders aimed at lowering drug prices MORE (Texas), cited the article in a letter to Neal earlier Friday urging the chairman not to issue a subpoena or file a lawsuit to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

“It has been made clear that this information is not being sought to further a valid legislative purpose, but instead to try to embarrass a political enemy,” Brady wrote.

Updated: 5:40 p.m.