Trump feels squeeze in tax return fight

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE is being squeezed in the fight over his tax returns.

House Democrats are expected to initiate a court case in the near future to obtain the documents. And a series of recent developments may not bode well for Trump’s efforts to keep lawmakers from seeing his returns.

“It’s unavoidable that he can’t hide from this anymore, no matter how hard he tries,” said Maura Quint, executive director of Tax March, which supports the efforts to obtain Trump’s returns.

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Democrats see several actions that took place last week as positive signs for their efforts.

Federal judges made rulings that sided with Democrats in two other cases where they issued subpoenas to obtain the president’s financial information.

Additionally, The Washington Post on Tuesday reported about a draft IRS memo written last fall finding that the Treasury secretary has no discretion when it comes to requests for tax returns made by the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees. That memo wasn’t finalized and doesn’t specifically mention Trump, but Democrats see it as confirming their interpretation of the law.

And New York state lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation that would allow the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees to request the state tax returns of Trump and other federal, state and local officials.

All of these developments come as House Democrats prepare to take legal action to obtain Trump’s tax returns. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Democrats press Trump officials over drop in ObamaCare signups amid website problems Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 MORE (D-Mass.) previously issued letters and subpoenas seeking Trump’s personal and business tax documents from 2013 to 2018, but those were rejected by the Treasury Department.

Neal told reporters on Thursday that there is likely to be some action in his effort to obtain Trump’s returns in the coming days.

When asked if that action would be a lawsuit, he said he’s “always thought that’s where this is going to end up.”

Trump broke with decades of precedent during his 2016 campaign when he didn’t voluntarily make any of his tax returns public. He has said that he doesn’t want to release them while under audit, though the IRS has said that audits don’t prevent people from releasing their own tax information.

The latest developments suggest that Trump’s tax returns might not permanently stay private. While Neal’s requests for the documents have cited a tax-code provision that requires the Ways and Means Committee to review tax returns it receives from Treasury in a closed session, the panel could vote to submit a report to the full House, which could make some or all of Trump’s tax information public.

Trump is expected to mount a vigorous defense in the fight over his tax returns, having already obtained outside counsel. He has also said that voters don’t care about his tax documents.

“I won the 2016 Election partially based on no Tax Returns while I am under audit (which I still am), and the voters didn’t care,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “Now the Radical Left Democrats want to again relitigate this matter. Make it a part of the 2020 Election!”

Recent polling from Morning Consult and Politico has found that essentially half of registered voters back congressional Democrats' efforts to obtain Trump's tax returns.

Republicans say that they don’t think Democrats’ efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns will hurt the president politically.

Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, said that the new developments in the fight over the returns are “more noise that the president doesn’t want,” but they may not be too damaging because voters generally already have their minds made up about the president.

“Voters are by and large decided one way or the other on Trump,” he said.

Heye added that Trump’s supporters like it when he fights, and “this is another avenue for him to do that.”

Republican strategists also say that voters care more about other issues than they do about Trump’s tax returns. And they said that Democrats' aggressive efforts to investigate Trump on his tax returns and other issues could end up backfiring.

“It’s clear that [Democrats are] going above and beyond oversight,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “They’re playing a political game to take Trump down.”

But those who support Democrats’ effort to obtain Trump’s returns say that the effort is important even if it doesn’t damage the president’s reelection prospects.

“It’s really not a matter of whether this is something that will hurt him politically or not, it’s a matter of the people making sure that the president is working in their interests and not [his] own,” Quint said.

Despite the momentum for Democrats, it still could be a while before they see Trump’s tax returns. A court case over the issue could take some time to reach its final conclusion, particularly if the Supreme Court eventually takes it up.

And while New York state’s bill on Congress requesting state tax returns could become law soon, Neal has suggested that he might not use the authority he would have under the measure to request Trump’s state tax returns. Neal’s stated purpose for requesting Trump’s federal returns focuses on an interest in legislative proposals relating to how the IRS audits presidents.

“The difficulty is that we don’t have control over state taxes,” Neal said, comparing the New York bill and his efforts to “green apples and red apples.”

He added that Trump’s state tax returns could provide a baseline to compare with federal tax returns but “for the moment, we’re still proceeding on our own path.”

One of the state lawmakers who introduced the New York legislation, Assemblyman David Buchwald (D), told The Hill that while Trump’s state tax returns may not directly be related to Neal’s stated purpose for seeking Trump’s federal returns, “there are other legitimate legislative tasks that state tax returns are relevant to.”

State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), who introduced the legislation in the other chamber, said that New York is giving Congress another way to access some of Trump’s tax information.

“I’m not sure they’ll take advantage of it, but if they need to, it will be available, I hope,” he told The Hill.

Niv Elis contributed.