Democrats and GOP square off over Trump's tax returns

Leroy Wright
February 10, 2019

That tradition broke in 2016, when Donald Trump became the first major candidate to refuse, citing an ongoing audit.

After Democrats won enough House seats to take control, Trump reiterated that he might consider releasing his tax returns - but only after the audit is concluded.

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss the legality of presidential and vice presidential tax returns.

The law, which Democrats can invoke without Republican approval, states that the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means committee each have the power to request taxpayer information and states that "the secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request".

After Trump boldly advised Congress not to pursue "ridiculous partisan investigations" during his State of the Union address Tuesday, Rep. Bill Pascrell, a senior member of the Ways and Means committee, stressed that the USA has a "checks and balances government".

Thursday's hearings were just the beginning.

As the negotiations were going on, Trump's campaign sent out a solicitation email to supporters asking them to vote on whether the president should declare a national emergency to build the border wall.

The hearing focused on wonky tax policy. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., a former prosecutor, said he wants to defer to special counsel Robert Mueller when it comes to requesting sensitive documents like private tax returns, to avoid interference with that investigation. Democrats are likely to sue if there is a delay, raising the prospect of a protracted legal battle that could potentially drag on to or even after the 2020 presidential election. "It would set a very risky precedent".

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"In reality, this is all about weaponizing our tax laws to target a political foe", said Republican Representative Jackie Walorski.

"It's not just a question of sending a letter; you have to do it in a very careful way".

Democrats need to decide how to justify seeking Trump's returns, and some lawmaker comments on Thursday appeared to bolster an option being considered that would place such an action within established congressional authority to oversee the IRS.

"They've got to come to a solution that actually does what they promised they would do, which is protect the American people", White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News.

Several academics, analysts and tax experts will attend the meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. EST. First, Trump targeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, who announced Wednesday that the committee would investigate alleged financial crimes involving Trump's businesses. He said Neal is consulting with lawyers for the House "to determine the appropriate legal steps to go forward with this unprecedented request". Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could ask the Democrats to re-submit any request with a stronger argument.

The matter could end up in court if the Trump administration does not comply with Democrats' requests. Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani has suggested the Democrats could have a hard time proving their demand was intended for pursuing legitimate congressional oversight and was not a political scavenger hunt. Other presidents and presidential nominees have released one year's worth (Republican Ronald Reagan) to 33 years' worth (Republican Jeb Bush) of returns for the public to review. The reason for this is simple: Congressional Republicans do not want another shutdown, and they do not want Trump to declare a national emergency, because both options put them in a awful position.

Schiff's Intelligence Committee is also planning a deep-dive into Trump's financial and business ties to Russian Federation, suggesting that they could involve money laundering.

Democrats have claimed that Trump's business dealings present a host of potential conflicts of interest that they can't understand without his tax information.

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