House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealYellen presses Democrats on tax enforcement House panel advances key portion of Democrats' .5T bill Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments MORE (D-Mass.) on Friday announced that he has issued subpoenas for six years of President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE’s tax returns, House Democrats' latest effort to obtain the returns.
Neal said he issued the subpoenas to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election 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.
"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 BradyHouse panel advances key portion of Democrats' .5T bill LIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means to conclude work on .5T package LIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup 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.