IRS Misses Deadline On Trump Tax Returns, Setting Stage for Legal Battle

April 23, 2019 by Dan McCue
President Donald J. Trump boards Air Force One to leave Minnesota after visiting Nuss Truck and Equipment in Burnsville for a roundtable discussion on tax cuts and the U.S. economy on April 15, 2019 in Burnsville, Minn. (Renee Jones Schneider/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

The Internal Revenue Service missed a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline to hand copies of President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns over to Congress, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy legal battle.

In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says due to the “unprecedented” nature of the committee’s request, the department can’t possibly act on it until “it is determined to be consistent with law.”

Due to the serious constitutional questions raised by this request and the serious consequences that a  resolution of those questions could have for taxpayer privacy, the Department is consulting the Department of Justice,” Mnuchen wrote.

He promised a response to Neal’s request for the tax returns would be forthcoming by May 6.

Chairman Neal had previously warned the Internal Revenue Service, which Mnuchen oversees, that “your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request.”

Tuesday’s deadline was established earlier this month, after the White House said it needed more time to respond to the committee’s original request for six years of Trump returns.

Nothing about the administration’s stance appeared to change in the intervening days.

“The president is pretty clear once he’s out of audit he’ll think about doing it but he is not inclined to do so at this time,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley during an appearance on Fox News Tuesday morning.

“No one cares about ridiculous charges about tax returns and all types of other things that Democrats are doubling down on today,” he said.

President Trump is the first modern president to refuse to disclose his taxes, consistently — though falsely — claiming he’s prevented from doing so because he is under IRS audit.

The Internal Revenue Service does automatically audit the returns of both the president and vice president every year, but that didn’t stop previous presidents from releasing their returns.

Under federal law, some congressional committee chairs — the ways and means committee in the House; the finance committee chair in the Senate — can compel the IRS to let them see anyone’s tax returns, including those of the president.

In the Senate, Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has not only said he won’t request the president’s returns, he sharply criticized House Democrats who, he said, dislike Trump “with a passion” and only “want want his tax returns to destroy him.”

The process leading to the Tuesday deadline began on April 3, when Chairman Neal sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig demanding copies of Trump’s taxes from 2013 through 2018.

At the time, Neal gave Rettig until April 13 to act. But the administration took a defiant stance.

On April 7, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Democrats will never see Trump’s returns.

When Rettig failed to meet the original deadline, Neal wrote the commissioner again, saying, “I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding my request and the authority of the Committee. Those concerns lack merit.

“Moreover, judicial precedent commands that none of the concerns raised can legitimately be used to deny the Committee’s request,” Neal added.

Now that the IRS has missed another deadline set by Neal, the Democrat will likely issue a subpoena for the documents and then sue in federal court to enforce the subpoena if needed.

If he does, his attorneys could cross paths with Trump’s counsel. On Monday, the president and the Trump Organization filed a federal lawsuit in the District of Columbia to block the House Oversight and Reform Committee from obtaining financial records from the company’s longtime accountant.

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