Battle Over Trump Income Taxes Poised to Escalate As Congress Returns
As lawmakers returned to Washington on Monday, a dominant question in the air was just how contentious things are likely to get as a number of House committees resume their investigations of President Donald Trump.
Among those in a state of resignation over what is likely to be a protracted battle with the White House is Representative Brendan Boyle, a Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which earlier this month requested the release of six years of the president’s personal and business income taxes.
Though perhaps not as grim as those fighting to save Winterfell from the onslaught of the white walkers in Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said “unfortunately, on so many issues, including this, the administration has proven itself uninterested in exactly what the law states.
“I am sure by late Monday or early Tuesday, Chairman [Richard] Neal, D-Mass., will bring the Democrats together, as he does every day when we are in session, to discuss this matter and where we stand now,” Boyle told The Well News. “But if I were to make an educated guess about where this is headed, I’d have to say I believe that this matter is going to wind up in court.”
Chairman Neal wrote the Internal Revenue Service on April 3, requesting the tax returns of Trump and eight of his more than 500 business entities, saying the panel needs them in order to fulfill its oversight responsibilities.
The federal tax code authorizes the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and his counterpart in the Senate to request to see any tax information held by the IRS.
“I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect,” Neal said in a statement after sending his request to the agency.
“This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the Administration,” the chairman said.
But in a letter to Treasury Department General Counsel Brent McIntosh, Trump attorney William Consovoy argued the committee has no “legitimate committee purpose” for seeking the president’s returns, and that their release would “set a dangerous precedent.”
The IRS is an agency within the Treasury Department.
“Even if Ways and Means had a legitimate committee purpose for requesting the President’s tax returns and return information,” Consovoy continued, “that purpose is not driving Chairman [Richard] Neal’s request. His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech.”
Representative Boyle said despite the White House’s assertions, “the reality is this is a pretty black and white issue in terms of the law.
“The IRS code clearly states that when it comes a request by the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, there is no discretion on the part of either the IRS commissioner or the secretary of the Treasury,” he said. “Under the law — and this has been the case for many decades — if a tax return is requested, it must be furnished.
“That’s why, although I think this is headed for court, I’m pretty confident that in the long run, the courts will rule in our favor,” Boyle said. “The only question I have is exactly how long they’ll be able to successfully delay complying with the law.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and on into the first years of his presidency, Trump has refused to release his tax returns breaking with decades of precedent. Neal’s request was the first time Congress has asked for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years.
“Although in many ways, this is new territory, President [Richard] Nixon faced a pretty similar situation,” Boyle said of the last time Congress found itself embroiled in an income tax-related dispute with the White House.
In Nixon’s case, a newspaper reporter named Jack White, working for the Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin in Rhode Island in 1973, got a tip that the president had failed to pay a large portion of his income taxes in 1970 and 1971.
White used tax documents to confirm the information he’d been given by his tipster.
The story revealed that Nixon and his wife had paid just $793 in income taxes in 1970 and $878 in 1971 and had received a tax refund totaling more than $131,000 for those two years. Nixon ultimately agreed to pay $476,000 in back taxes.
White’s reporting, which won him the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, also led to one of Nixon’s most famous utterances.
During an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with 400 Associated Press managing editors in Orlando, Fla. weeks after White’s initial story appeared, the president vigorously defended his record and said he had never profited from his public service.
“I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice,” Nixon said.
“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got,” he added.
As the tense give and take with the editors continued, the president also said he relent to calls from Congress that he’d be more forthcoming about his personal finances.
“People often misremember history and think Nixon was referring to Watergate when he declared ‘I am not a crook,’ but in fact, the statement relates directly to an issue with his tax returns,” Boyle said.
“So there is at least one historical parallel to the situation we find ourselves in today,” he said. “The difference is Nixon didn’t signal an intention to fight all the way through the court to block an inquiry into his personal finances.
“Another big difference between where we were as a country in the early 1970s and where we are now is that back then you had a Republican party that was willing to stand up for certain norms — even when you have a Republican president involved,” Boyle said.
“Today the Republican party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump Inc., and they are completely willing — whether the issue is the Mueller report or Trump’s tax returns or something else — to completely look the other way and be compliant to this president and this White House,” he said.