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‘Never’ comes tomorrow, and so will Trump’s tax returns

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Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney emphatically stated on Sunday that Democrats will never see Trump’s tax returns.

The media is rife with reports that President Trump will fight the recent House Ways & Means Committee request to the IRS for disclosure of six years worth of personal and business tax returns for himself, his trust and six business entities related to him.

But Trump should drop this fight because it does not make sense, legally or politically.{mosads}

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s chief personal attorneys, decried the request for disclosure of tax returns during an appearance on ABC as not having a “legitimate legislative purpose.” During this same appearance, Sekulow went further in accusing Democrats of politicizing the IRS: “This idea that you can use the IRS as a political weapon, which is what is happening here, is incorrect both as a matter of statutory law and constitutionally. We should not be in a situation where individual private tax returns are used for political purposes.”

Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) weighed in Sunday, too, describing the congressional request to the IRS for Trump’s tax returns as “moronic.”

The statements by Mulvaney, Sekulow and Romney all serve as memorable sound bites and pro-Trump political public relations statements, but they really don’t amount to much in terms of actually undermining the legitimacy of the request by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) for the Trump tax returns.

Internal Revenue Code Section 6103(f) specifically provides the Ways & Means Committee the authority to request disclosure of tax returns. This code section mandates that the IRS “shall disclose” tax returns upon written request by the House Ways & Means Committee.

There is no wiggle room readily apparent in the above sentence. The House Ways & Means Committee has oversight of the Internal Revenue Service and sole legislative authority with regard to the Federal Tax Laws.

The Internal Revenue Service is compelled to comply with the written request by Chairman Neal and supply the requested Trump-related tax returns by April 10. And it will.

The Trump legal team does not have a legal leg to stand on with regard to its opposition to Chairman Neal’s request, despite the referenced media histrionics. And if they think it through, they don’t have much of a political leg to stand on at this time, either.{mossecondads}

Trump should allow the legitimate congressional request to be complied with. By doing so, he can triumphantly say that his tax returns have been revealed to Congress. The secrecy of his returns is guaranteed due to criminal penalties associated with disclosure of his tax returns that will apply to anyone associated with the House Ways & Means Committee who comes into contact with the tax returns. So if anyone thinks that Trump’s tax returns will be leaked shortly after they are provided to the committee — think again. There are approximately 100,000 employees working at the IRS, and Trump’s tax returns have never been leaked due to the importance the IRS places on the privacy of the returns and the penalties involved in violating that privacy.

The House Ways & Means Committee will not share Trump’s tax returns with any other committee or anyone by law. This proviso is repeated in Chairman Neal’s letter. It is well known that one way around this regulation would be for the full committee to vote on the release of the tax returns. Since the Democrats have the majority, it is reasonable to assume that a majority vote to release the tax returns could be had. But that would be a serious political mistake and one that the Trump team could successfully jump on, both legally and politically.

The presidential reelection campaign season is just beginning. Should the IRS be unopposed in providing Ways & Means with the Trump tax returns now, Trump can take public credit for not opposing a legitimate congressional process. The tax returns and associated audit work papers will take some time to be analyzed and processed. Trump himself has characterized his tax returns as complex. By the time any conclusions are reached by the committee, the presidential campaign will be in full throttle. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump can crow about complying with the law and with Congress in regard to the release of his tax returns, and take away one of the Democrats’ favored political attack lines.

Should the committee decide at some point prior to the 2020 election to vote to release Trump’s tax returns, Trump could then best leverage both a potent legal and political assault with regard to Democrats “weaponizing” his tax returns as a political attack. The courts might look at such a characterization with favor then, as opposed to now.

Mr. Trump could play the role of the victim at the height of the political campaign, should the committee lean toward voting to release his returns, as opposed to the billionaire-bully that Democrats are likely to depict him as in the run-up to the election without the tax returns as a factor.

So, Mr. Trump, bide your time with regard to the tax return issue. Allow the IRS to supply the requested returns to Chairman Neal, and challenge Chairman Neal with regard to the control of leaks by his committee; put the House Ways & Means Committee in a political box. It will be in possession of some big-league secrets but won’t be able to tell any of their friends about it, because in doing so they could go to jail.

Let “never” come tomorrow, Mr. President. If you play it right, you can laugh about it in 2021 while in your second term in the Oval Office.

Martin J. Sheil is a retired supervisory agent for IRS Criminal Investigation with 30 years experience, including service as coordinator of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) for the Gulf Coast Region, Branch Chief for the North Texas District (Dallas), Special Agent in Charge for the South Texas District (San Antonio) and as Director of IRS CI Asset Forfeiture in Washington, D.C.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump House Ways and Means Committee Internal Revenue Service Mick Mulvaney Mitt Romney Richard Neal trump tax returns
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