Trump escaped his four years in Washington without disclosing his tax returns, as most modern presidents do, and Democrats failed to pry the returns free with a lawsuit.
But the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over taxes, plans to renew its efforts to get the now-ex-president’s returns.
Ways and Means will “continue to pursue its case” for Trump’s taxes as part of its effort to oversee the mandatory annual audit of both the president and vice president, committee spokeswoman Erin Hatch told HuffPost in a statement.
Federal law says the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, is supposed to hand over any tax return document that tax policy committees on Capitol Hill request. Congress gave itself this power in a 1924 law designed to expose corruption in the executive branch.
The IRS has audited the president and vice president every year since Richard Nixon got caught underpaying his taxes ― and he got caught partly thanks to IRS disclosures to Congress under the 1924 law.
Trump has long bragged about his ability to avoid taxes. The New York Times, which has obtained copies of his returns, exposed his use of sketchy write-offs and a battle with the IRS over a questionable $72 million refund.
But Trump’s Treasury Department, under Steven Mnuchin, simply refused to comply with the disclosure law. The committee followed its request with a subpoena, which was also denied, and then a lawsuit. The lawsuit has been bottled up by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump campaign donor and 2017 appointee. He has refused to hear the merits of the case until higher courts rule on Trump’s other refusals to comply with congressional oversight.
The Ways and Means Committee plans to renew its formal request for Trump’s taxes as well as its subpoena, the committee spokesperson said, and does not anticipate “any interruption in our case.”
Drew Angerer via Getty Images Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attend a news conference in September 2020. Congressional Democrats are renewing efforts to obtain copies of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
It’s not clear what happens next, as there is not much precedent for the situation. It’s not even clear why the court case would need to continue, since Joe Biden is now president and has nominated a new treasury secretary, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen.
Theoretically, Democrats could renew their request for Trump’s taxes, and Yellen’s IRS would simply hand them over.
Trump’s personal lawyers have anticipated this possibility, and on Tuesday asked McFadden to hold a hearing on whether the parties involved could hold off on disclosing Trump’s taxes before McFadden “reaches a decision on the merits” of the case, which he has resisted doing. McFadden set a hearing for Friday.
Ways and Means probably has to play along with the judge instead of getting the returns straight from the Biden administration, said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center.
“Now that the issue has been raised to McFadden, it may be bad faith for them to sidestep McFadden,” Rosenthal said.
But Ways and Means isn’t the only committee that can ask the IRS for somebody’s tax information. The Senate Finance Committee, which the Democrats now control, has the same power. And the Senate has nothing to do with the case before McFadden.
Incoming finance chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) could make his own request for Trump’s taxes under tax code section 6103. In an interview Tuesday, Wyden said he backs the House’s approach.
“The House has put a lot of time into this,” Wyden said. “I’m going to work with them.”
But Wyden didn’t rule out sending his own request to the Treasury Department.
“The American people deserve to know what the president and vice president are paying and what they owe,” Wyden said. “Now that I’m the chairman, we’re going to look at all the tools to make sure the public knows that.”
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