Dems inch closer to demanding Trump's tax returns

Dems inch closer to demanding Trump's tax returns
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House Democrats are edging closer to formally requesting President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE’s tax returns from the Treasury Department, as lawmakers ramp up their arguments for why it’s necessary to examine the documents.

While Democratic leaders and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Social Security won't be able to fund full payouts by 2035 | Drug companies under scrutiny from Congress boost lobbying | US on pace to break record for measles cases On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Social Security won't be able to fund full payouts by 2035 MORE (D-Mass.) haven’t announced exactly when they will make the request, several lawmakers say action is likely to come sooner rather than later.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOn The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' Dems, Trump harden 2020 battle lines on Tax Day Trump lawyer disputes Dem rationale for requesting tax returns MORE (D-N.J.) predicted Tuesday that the request will likely be made in “the next couple of weeks.”

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Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, declined to weigh in on timing but said, “Chairman Neal is obviously trying to wrap this process up.”

Ultimately, it will be up to Neal to send the letter to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinDems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Former Sears holding company sues ex-CEO, Mnuchin and others over 'asset stripping' MORE requesting Trump’s tax returns. The Massachusetts Democrat has been taking a methodical approach because he thinks the matter is likely to result in a lengthy court battle.

Neal told reporters Tuesday that he will make the request “when the case is ready.” On Wednesday, he said it’s important to take the right approach with the request because it will likely be “under the magnifying glass” of courts, and that his staff has been “working pretty hard” on the matter.

A provision in the federal tax code gives the chairmen of Congress’s two tax committees the authority to request returns and related information from the Treasury Department and then review the documents behind closed doors. A committee vote could follow if lawmakers want to send a report to the full House or Senate, which could make public some or all of the tax information.

Congress has rarely used that authority. Most recently was several years ago when Republicans were investigating the IRS’s scrutiny of applications by conservative groups for tax-exempt status. Congress also used it in the 1970s as part of an investigation into former President Nixon’s taxes.

But it’s also unusual that Trump has not voluntarily released any of his returns, something every other president in recent decades has done. Trump has said he won’t release his returns while they are under audit, though the IRS has said audits don’t prevent people from making their own tax information public.

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House Democrats have said obtaining Trump’s tax returns is one of their top oversight priorities, arguing they want to learn about any conflicts of interest the president may have — particularly involving foreign governments.

But Democrats are concerned that the Treasury Department will sit on any request for the documents or refuse to turn them over, though the statute says the Treasury “shall furnish” the requested documents. 

A Treasury Department spokesperson reiterated Wednesday that Mnuchin would examine any request with the department’s lawyers to determine its legality. The Treasury has said in the past that the department’s general counsel would be involved in the review process.

Democrats  have taken steps to explain why it’s important to obtain Trump’s tax documents, in an effort to bolster their case if the issue ends up in court.

Neal, for example, has consulted with fellow committee leaders.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsWhite House moves to block official from congressional testimony despite subpoena The Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday that Neal has asked other committee chairmen “what it was that we thought would be helpful in his presentation to get the tax returns.”

Democrats have also used hearings to lay the foundation to seek Trump’s returns.

A Ways and Means subpanel held a hearing last month on tax law and legislative proposals relating to presidential tax returns. Some Democrats’ questions at the hearing were aimed at establishing Congress’s authority to request and publicly release tax returns.

Additionally, Democrats think that last week’s testimony from Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenTrump's job approval ticks up 2 points: Gallup Dem lawmaker: 'Very serious doubts' that IRS is 'properly auditing' Trump Trump, businesses sue Oversight chairman to block subpoena for financial records MORE, Trump’s former personal attorney, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee heightened the need to examine the president’s tax returns.

During the hearing, Cohen testified that Trump would undervalue his assets to reduce his real-estate tax bills, while he would inflate the value of his assets for insurance purposes. He also said he wasn’t sure if Trump was under audit by the IRS during the 2016 president campaign.

Two days after the hearing, an aide for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Julián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Swalwell on impeachment: 'We're on that road' after Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.) put out one of the most forceful comments from the Speaker’s office about Democrats’ intentions to get Trump’s tax returns.

“Every day the American people and Congress learn more about President Trump’s improprieties, from conflicts of interest to influence peddling, potential tax evasion and violations of the Constitution — all roads leading back to President Trump’s finances,” Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said in a statement. “These improprieties, and the lack of transparency around them, give the House legitimate legislative, oversight and legal reasons to review the President’s tax returns.”

Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettLobbying World Treasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Overnight Health Care: Oversight Republicans accuse Dems of partisan drug pricing probe | Democrats struggle to unite behind drug price plan | CDC investigating E. coli outbreak MORE (D-Texas), a Ways and Means Committee member, said Tuesday that the Cohen hearing “strongly makes the case why you need business returns.”

“Given the way Trump has intermingled his personal, his business, and the public business, we really need the business returns,” he said.

House Democrats will also put Trump’s tax returns in the spotlight later this week when they vote on their broad election-reform bill, known as H.R. 1, that would require presidents, vice presidents and major-party nominees for those positions to release 10 years of their individual tax returns.

Progressive lawmakers are pushing Neal to request both Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Neal said the scope of his request will depend on the legal advice he receives.

If Neal is able to obtain Trump’s tax returns, Ways and Means members would be permitted to look at the documents privately, in addition to committee staff and the Joint Committee on Taxation staff who are designated to review them.

But until the Ways and Means panel votes to send a report to the House, lawmakers and staff won’t be able to say much, if anything, in public about what’s in the documents, since it’s a crime to make an unauthorized disclosure of tax returns.

“He would have to be very careful, and he would be well-advised to say nothing,” University of Virginia law professor George Yin said, referring to Neal.

Republicans have criticized Democrats’ interest in obtaining Trump’s returns, saying that doing so would be abuse of power and an invasion of privacy.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy MORE (R-Iowa) — the only other lawmaker who can request tax returns from Treasury — said he hopes nobody in Congress requests Trump’s documents. But he also said that if House Democrats end up obtaining the returns, he will also seek to get a copy of them from Treasury.

“If the House of Representatives is going to get them, then I want the Senate Finance Committee to have them,” he told reporters Wednesday.