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House Panel Formally Asks IRS to Turn Over Trump Tax Returns

April 4, 2019 by Dan McCue
Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, formally demanding that the IRS turn over six years of personal and business tax returns for President Donald Trump. (Neal.House.Gov/TNS)

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday formally requested that the Internal Revenue Service turn over six years of President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns.

In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Representative Richard Neal, D-Mass., cited Congress’s oversight responsibility to review Trump’s business activities both before and during his two years as president.

“Consistent with its authority, the Committee is considering legislative proposals and conducting oversight related to our Federal tax laws, including, but not limited to, the extent to which the IRS audits and enforces the Federal tax laws against a President,” Neal wrote.

“Under the Internal Revenue Manual, individual tax returns of a President are subject to mandatory examination, but this practice is IRS policy and not codified in the Federal tax laws,” the congressman continued.

“It is necessary for the Committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return,” he said.

Trump, breaking with four decades of tradition from presidents and major-party presidential candidates, hasn’t released any of his tax returns, despite saying repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he would do so.

Speaking with reporters in the White House Cabinet Room before a briefing with senior military leaders, Trump initially tried to make light of the request, expressing surprise the committee is only seeking six years of his tax returns.

“Usually it’s 10, so I guess they’re giving up,” the president said.

Trump continued: “We’re under audit, despite what people said, and we’re working that out. I’ve been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name you’re audited. But until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined” to release the returns.

The president didn’t say whether he would order Rettig to refuse Neal’s request, but it now seems clear that a legal battle is brewing between the White House and Congress.

The provision of tax law Neal invoked, Internal Revenue Code section 6103(f), states that upon written request from the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the treasury secretary is obligated to turn over any returns requested regardless of who the taxpayer is or whether they are under audit.

The provision goes on to say that the returns will be provided to the committee while it is sitting in executive session “unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”

The request covers tax years 2013 through 2018, and in addition to the president’s personal returns, Neal asked for the tax documents of eight Trump business entities, including five that the committee says represent the core of the president’s business.

Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee strenuously objected to Neal’s decision to seek the tax documents.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Brady wrote “this particular request is an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority, and violates the intent and safeguard of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue code.”

Brady then took to Twitter to lambast House Democrats, saying their “latest misguided effort to impeach is a violation of law and Committee authority.

“Weaponizing our tax code sets a dangerous precedent & weakens Americans’ privacy right,” he said.

But Neal was not ruffled.

“Congress, as a co-equal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” the committee chairman said in a written statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans—including those elected to our highest office—are complying with those laws.”

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