Federal law says the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee can request any American’s personal tax information from the Treasury Department. Democrats will use that power in about two weeks, according to committee member Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
The Trump administration is “feeling the heat, there’s no question about it, because everybody’s talking about the tax returns now,” Pascrell said.
Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has said it is necessary to build a public case for the need to obtain Trump’s tax information. But he has declined to commit to a deadline.
“I don’t think that we have a definitive timeline right now, but that could change based on the information as it’s provided,” Neal told HuffPost on Wednesday.
Obtaining Trump’s tax returns is part of Democrats’ broader oversight of the Trump administration, which they began when they took control of the House this year. The House Judiciary Committee on Monday sent dozens of document requests to Trump affiliates who might have information about corruption within the Trump administration or Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Past presidential candidates have disclosed tax info while campaigning and divested from their businesses once taking office. Trump did neither.
Tax documents could show how much money Trump makes, where it comes from and how much he pays in taxes. Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified last week before the House oversight committee that Trump manipulated the value of his assets to get a break on his tax bill.
For Ways and Means, Trump’s tax returns could show whether the IRS is doing a good job of enforcing the tax laws written by members of Congress. The IRS has already reported that individuals who underreport business income are the biggest contributors to the gap between what Americans collectively owe and what the IRS ultimately collects.
In separate interviews over the past week, Pascrell and Neal have both said the other man supports his public statements, even though they seem to contradict each other. Pascrell complained last week that Neal was taking too long to request Trump’s tax info; Neal said Pascrell told him privately he was doing a good job. And Pascrell said Wednesday that Neal has had no complaint about his two-week prediction, which he first made on Tuesday.
“I’m sticking with it,” Pascrell said.
Neal has previously said he would wait until special counsel Robert Mueller had finished his investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russian government in 2016. He has only ever committed to making the request sometime this year.
The law says the chairs of congressional tax committees can ask for private citizens’ tax information and the treasury secretary “shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.” Congress created the law in the 1920s specifically as a check on corruption in the executive branch.
Neal has said his staff has been drafting the request carefully because the Trump administration will probably not comply with the law. A spokesperson for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said only that Mnuchin will review any requests “for legality.” Democrats expect to wind up in court once they do request Trump’s taxes.
Ways and Means Republicans, for their part, say Democrats should just trust the IRS to audit the president, which the agency does every year by law.
“This is all about politics,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.). “I get it.”