Key players in new fight over Trump tax returns

House Democrats see getting President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE’s tax returns as one of their top oversight priorities — and they are bracing for a fight in the new year.

Trump is the first president in decades who hasn’t made his tax returns public.

Democrats want to review Trump’s returns in order to get more information about any potential conflicts of interest.

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The federal tax code provides that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” any tax returns requested by a chairman of a congressional tax committee, so long as the panel reviews the returns in a closed session. The committee could then vote to issue a report that makes some or all of the return public.

When Democrats take control of the House in January they will get the ability to request the returns, and they intend to use that power. But Democrats also expect the administration to resist, likely sending the fight to court.

Here are five key players to watch as Democrats prepare to request Trump’s tax returns.

Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDems walk Trump trade tightrope On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada READ: Mnuchin refuses to provide Trump's tax returns MORE (D-Mass.)

As likely incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Neal will be the House Democrat with the authority to formally request Trump’s tax returns from Treasury.

House Minority Leader and likely next Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Dems walk Trump trade tightrope Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution MORE (D-Calif.), who is supportive of the effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns, has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the Ways and Means panel will decide the path House Democrats take on the issue.

It will be up to Neal to determine exactly when to request Trump’s tax returns, what specific documents to seek and how any documents will be examined behind closed doors if they are turned over.

Neal has said that he expects to request the documents, but also that he expects an eventually lengthy court battle.

The mild-mannered Massachusetts Democrat, who has served in Congress since 1989, is expected to proceed carefully to ensure he’s complying with the law. He’ll also want to balance the effort to obtain Trump’s returns with his policy priorities, such as protecting people with pre-existing health conditions, pursuing bipartisan legislation on infrastructure and retirement savings, and holding hearings on Republicans’ 2017 tax-cut law.

 

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDems walk Trump trade tightrope Treasury, IRS set to miss subpoena deadline on Trump tax returns Reps. Pascrell and Doyle win annual bocce tournament MORE (D-N.J.)

Pascrell, a senior Ways and Means Committee member, has been a leader of Democrats’ efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns over the past two years.

Pascrell initially asked outgoing Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse to vote on retirement bill next week House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns Top Republican urges Dem chairman to drop Trump tax returns effort MORE (R-Texas) to request the returns in February 2017. Since then, he’s worked to force votes on the House floor and in the Ways and Means Committee on the topic, though his efforts to obtain the returns have been unsuccessful while Republicans controlled the House.

The New Jersey Democrat told The Hill earlier this month that he talks regularly with Neal about the tax return issue. He said they discuss “what is the best procedure and how do we do it and get the tax returns, rather than just have a photo op.”

The effort for the Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns has broad support in the Democratic caucus. Other committees besides Ways and Means also have an interest in learning what’s in the documents, including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And a major good-government bill that House Democrats plan to offer next year as “H.R. 1” would require presidential candidates to release three years of tax returns.

 

President Trump

The odds of Trump voluntarily releasing his tax returns are slim to none.

In a press conference the day after the midterm elections, Trump reiterated that he doesn’t want to disclose his tax returns while he’s under audit by the IRS.

“They’re under audit. They have been for a long time,” Trump said.

He also said people would not understand his tax returns.

"They're extremely complex. People wouldn't understand them," he added.

The IRS, however, has said that an audit doesn’t prevent anyone from releasing their own tax information.

The Treasury Department will make a decision on how to respond to a Democratic request for Trump’s returns. But Trump is known to speak his mind on issues of importance, notably on Twitter. Expect Trump to weigh in on social media and elsewhere and hit back at Democrats over the issue.

 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House encouraging investment in Middle East as part of peace plan Trump, China and trade: Who blinks first? On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada MORE

The tax-code provision Democrats intend to use to request Trump’s tax returns directs Mnuchin to provide requested returns to the chairmen of the congressional tax committees.

But there will likely be pressure for Mnuchin to stall or refuse a Democratic request for the documents, given Trump’s desire not to disclose his returns and Republicans’ belief that a request for the returns would amount to an abuse of power and an invasion of privacy.

Mnuchin is expected to consult with others at Treasury and the IRS — including Treasury General Counsel Brent McIntosh, a Trump appointee — about how to respond to any request from Democrats for the returns.

Mnuchin told The New York Times shortly before the midterms that Treasury would honor a request if the department determines that the request is legal. A Treasury spokesperson has said Mnuchin will review any request from Democrats with the department’s general counsel to determine its legality.

 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador MORE (R-Iowa)

Grassley is expected to become chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee next year, putting him in a position to be a leading voice against a Democratic effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

Grassley said on the Senate floor earlier this month that he does not want to engage in a “political fishing expedition.”

“I will not go along with efforts to weaponize the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes,” he said. “Such an action would be unprecedented.”

Like Neal, Grassley will have the authority in 2019 to request tax returns from Treasury. Some congressional observers have suggested that if Senate Republicans view Democrats’ attempts to obtain Trump’s tax returns have gone too far, that Grassley could respond by requesting from Treasury the tax returns of Democratic politicians or organizations.

Given Grassley’s concerns about committees using their power to obtain tax returns, that may not be a step that the senator is willing to take.