Dems formally ask for Trump's tax returns

House Democrats have formally requested copies of President TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE’s tax returns, taking action on one of their top oversight priorities.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Powell asserts Fed's independence amid new Trump attacks | House approves 3 billion spending package | CBO projects 'unprecedented' debt levels by 2049 | Democrats struggle with Trump tax law provision Democrats struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision Trump's tax returns — DOJ trying to put off the inevitable? MORE (D-Mass.) sent a letter Wednesday to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns, from 2013-2018, by April 10.

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“The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program," Neal said in a statement. "On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately."

"In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities," he added. "The Committee has a duty to examine whether Congressional action may be needed to require such audits, and to oversee that they are conducted properly."

A “Frequently Asked Questions” document from Neal’s office said the chairman requested six years of documents, in part, because of the amount of time that tax documents are generally available at the IRS.

The document states that Neal requested returns from the five business entities that constitute the core of the president’s businesses, as well as the returns for entities associated with Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J., that has been the subject of press reports about tax compliance.

The request marks a new front in Democrats’ efforts to investigate Trump and his administration. Democrats have long had an interest in examining Trump’s tax returns to learn about any conflicts of interest he may have involving foreign governments, as well as to see how he has been affected by the tax-cut law he signed in 2017.

But Neal focused his letter to Rettig on the Ways and Means Committee’s interest in reviewing the IRS’s audits and enforcement of tax laws against presidents.

"It is necessary for the Committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return," Neal wrote.

Along with his request for the returns, Neal asked for information about any audits of the tax filings. He also asked for administrative work files, such as workpapers and affidavits, associated with the returns.

Additionally, Neal requested that if Trump or any of his listed business entities hadn’t filed returns for any of the years specified, that the IRS issue a statement saying so.

Trump is the first president in decades not to make any of his tax returns public. He has cited an audit that dates back to before his administration began, but the IRS has said audits don’t prevent people from releasing their own tax information.

“We’re under audit, despite what people said, and we’re working that out," Trump told reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. "I’m always under audit, it seems. But I’ve been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name you’re audited."

“But until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he added.

A provision in the federal tax code gives the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees the power to ask for any tax returns and return information and examine them in a closed session. After reviewing the documents privately, a committee could vote to send a report to the full House or Senate, which could make some or all of the tax returns public.

The statute says that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” the documents, provided that they are reviewed in a closed session. But it’s unclear how quickly the IRS will respond and if they will provide Neal with the documents.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFive things to watch as Trump heads to G-20 in Japan Mnuchin: We were 'about 90 percent of the way there' on China trade deal The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? MORE said at a hearing in March that he will consult with Treasury’s lawyers and follow the law. 

An IRS spokesman said the agency didn’t have an immediate comment.

Many lawmakers and tax experts have said they expect the tax-returns issue to result in a lengthy court case, and those expectations prompted Neal to take his time before requesting the documents.

Neal had said he wouldn’t proceed until he felt his case was ready. That cautious approach to requesting Trump’s tax returns frustrated progressive groups who thought he should have acted more quickly to ensure that the House would obtain the documents before the midterm elections.

Tax March Executive Director Maura Quint said Wednesday that while her group had hoped Neal would request the returns sooner, the group trusts that the chairman “will effectively and efficiently manage this process to bring the American people answers about Trump’s numerous conflicts of interest, dubious tax schemes, and allegations of fraud.”

Since Democrats took control of the House in January, they have taken steps at hearings to build a case for the need to examine Trump’s tax returns.

Notably, Democrats have said the testimony of Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenHouse Intelligence Committee to subpoena Trump associate Felix Sater Hicks repeatedly blocked by White House from answering Judiciary questions The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE, Trump’s former lawyer, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February heightened the need to see the president’s tax filings. Cohen said Trump would undervalue his assets to lower his real estate tax bills, while also exaggerating the value of his assets for insurance purposes.

House Democrats also passed a wide-ranging election reform bill in March that would require presidents, vice presidents and major-party nominees for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns. But the Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to take up that legislation.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDemocrats struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision Congressional scorekeeper: Repealing SALT deduction cap would benefit high earners Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight MORE (D-N.J.), a leader in Democrats’ push to request Trump’s tax returns, said Democrats are prepared to fight if the IRS is resistant to providing Neal with the tax returns.

“If they want a fight, they’ll get a fight,” he told The Hill. “We are prepared legally and morally.”

Republicans have been critical of Democrats’ desire to obtain Trump’s tax returns, arguing that Democrats shouldn’t abuse the tax code for political purposes or invade taxpayers’ privacy.

Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law House panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits MORE (R-Texas) sent a letter to Mnuchin on Wednesday arguing that Neal’s request “is an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority” and violates the intent and safeguards of the tax code.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Senate Finance leaders in talks on deal to limit drug price increases Million-dollar drugs pose new challenge for Congress MORE (R-Iowa) — who like Neal has the power to request tax returns from the Treasury Department — has said he doesn’t think anyone should be requesting Trump’s returns. However, he said that if House Democrats are successful in obtaining a copy of Trump’s tax returns, then he will also request a copy of the documents.

A Grassley spokesperson said Wednesday that “those seeking an individual’s personal tax returns to exact political damage would be opening the door to future abuses of power and would poison the public trust in the ability of the IRS to keep personal information private.”

Rettig is scheduled to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on April 10, and a House Appropriations subcommittee on April 9.

Updated at 7:35 p.m.