The Treasury would enter “uncharted territory” if it refused the House tax-writing panel’s demand for someone’s tax returns, an expert told lawmakers Thursday, as Democrats set the table for a potential showdown with President Trump.
“I don’t see any wiggle room in the statute for the secretary to refuse a request,” said George K. Yin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.
House Democrats are pushing legislation that would compel presidents, vice presidents and anyone who runs for the White House to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.
It’s a proposal that’s unlikely to make it through the GOP-led Senate, though Democrats eager to see Mr. Trump’s returns are using the effort to bolster their case for prying loose his file.
That move would use an existing law that empowers the Ways and Means chairman to request someone’s tax returns from the Treasury and review them.
Republicans rebuffed the idea during the first two years of Mr. Trump’s tenure, though Democrats’ sweep to the majority changed the playing field.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat, said Congress has every right to get someone’s returns, especially if they fear there are conflicts of interest or irregularities within them.
“The law is on our side,” he said.
It’s unclear, however, whether the Trump administration would comply with any House request, raising the specter of a lengthy court battle.
In a brief statement, the Treasury Department said Secretary Steven Mnuchin “will review any request with the Treasury general counsel for legality.”
Mr. Trump, who says an audit prevents him from disclosing his returns, broke decades of precedent by refusing to release his returns during the campaign. He also says the electorate picked him in 2016, so it’s unlikely anyone cares about his taxes.
Democrats, including, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, say that’s inaccurate.
“I think overwhelmingly, the public wants to see his tax returns,” she said Thursday at her weekly press conference. “They want to know the truth, they want to know the facts and [that] he has nothing to hide.”
Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the full Ways and Means Committee, has moved cautiously so far, focusing on health care and other issues so the threat to compel Mr. Trump’s returns does not look like a political hit job.
Progressive activists want him to move faster.
“The time for further stalling and delay is over,” said Josh Credo, co-director of CREDO Action, a network of progressive activists. “The American people want to see Donald Trump’s tax returns now.”
Republicans tried Thursday to head off the debate altogether, saying nothing in the law compels the president or a vice president to put forward their returns.
Rep. Mike Kelly, the committee’s top Republican, said he’s worried the committee would open Pandora’s box if it forces presidents to disclose returns. The House speaker, individual members or political donors could be next, he said.
“Our role is oversight, not overreach,” he said.
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