Trump lawyer urges Treasury against releasing president's tax returns until DOJ gives opinion

An outside lawyer for President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE argued Friday that Democrats can't legally request Trump's tax returns and said that the IRS shouldn't provide the information to Congress until it receives an opinion for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

"Caution and deliberation are essential to ensure that the Treasury Department does not erode the constitutional separation of powers or the Tax Code’s 'core purpose of protecting taxpayer privacy,' ... — protections that safeguard not just the President, but all Americans," William Consovoy, a lawyer at Consovoy McCarthy Park in Arlington, Va., said in a letter to the Treasury Department's general counsel.

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Trump would not comment on the letter when asked during a visit to the southern border, but scoffed at Democratic efforts to obtain his tax information. 

“Nothing whatsoever. Nothing whatsoever. I have nothing to say about it. I got elected. They elected me, now they keep going. I'm under audit. When you're under audit, you don't do it,” he told reporters. 

The letter marks the start of Trump's formal effort to fight Democrats' request for his tax filings. The president has already made comments to reporters indicating that he did not want to comply with Democrats' request.

Trump is the first president in decades to refuse to voluntarily release his tax returns. He has cited a longtime IRS audit, though the IRS has said that audits don't prevent people from making their own tax information public.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealRepublicans attempt to amend retirement savings bill to include anti-BDS language House votes to boost retirement savings Steyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess MORE (D-Mass.) on Wednesday sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting six years worth of Trump's personal and business tax returns.

Neal made the request under a provision of the federal tax code that states the Treasury Department "shall furnish" tax returns requested by the chairmen of Congress's tax committees, provided that they are viewed in a closed session. He said he was seeking the returns as part of the Ways and Means Committee's interest in legislative proposals and oversight of the IRS's audits of presidents.

Democrats say that there is little room in the statute for the IRS to deny their request, which they say has a legitimate legislative purpose.

But Trump's lawyer disagrees.

"While the committee has jurisdiction over taxes, it has no power to conduct its own examination of individual taxpayers," Consovoy wrote. "Enforcement of our nation’s tax laws is entrusted to the IRS — an arm of the Executive Branch."

Consovoy called Neal's explanation of why he wants the returns "obviously pretextual."

"If Chairman Neal genuinely wants to review how the IRS audits Presidents, why is he seeking tax returns and return information covering the four years before President Trump took office?" he wrote. "Why is he not requesting information about the audits of previous Presidents? And why can he not simply ask the IRS to explain its policy?"

Consovoy also argued that if the IRS provided Neal with the documents he requested, it would set a troublesome precedent of allowing politicians to use tax returns to attack their opponents. He also argued that it's inappropriate to ask for information about an ongoing IRS audit, and audits should be protected from congressional interference.

"Even the most scrupulous IRS officials could not help but be influenced by the fact that Congressional partisans are scrutinizing their work in real time," he wrote.

—Jordan Fabian contributed. Updated at 5:24 p.m.