House committee pressures IRS for presidential tax returns
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Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means Richard Neal served a deadline to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig for the release of President Trump’s tax returns by April 23rd, according to CNN. Failure to turn over the returns might transform current debate to a long and drawn out court case.
“I expect a reply from the IRS by 5:00 p.m on April 23, 2019. Please know that if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” Representative Neal wrote in his letter sent on April 13.
Neal’s first request on April 3rd asked IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for the tax returns by April 10. On April 10th, an objection to that letter was offered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Rettig’s superior. Secretary Mnuchin stated, “the Treasury Department will not be able to complete its review,” saying that he would oversee the processing of the request “to ensure that our response is fully consistent with the law of the Constitution.”
Neal’s letter on April 13 gives his reasons why Mnuchin cannot interfere with the proceedings. In his letter, Neal cites a law which gives him the power to demand tax returns. This law says “’[u]pon written request from the chairman of the Committee… the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified.’”
In his next point Senator Neal argues the Committee is within its purposes to request Trump’s tax returns, or in Neal’s words, “there is no valid basis to the question of the Committee’s legislative purpose here.”
Neal also stated that “concerns about what the Committee may do with the tax returns and return information are baseless.” Here, the Representative is saying that no rights are being violated by the Committee’s demands for the tax returns.
Rejections by Secretary Mnuchin or the IRS to the first clause in particular will draw both sides into a legal battle. Since Chairman Neal has stated “failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” it is likely that the decision will be decided in court.
The upcoming court battle promises to be unprecedented. The article Neal is relying on, according to CNN, is “a 1920s-era law that has never been challenged in court before.” The decision of the court will determine the future of this law.
The reason Democrats have started using this law is because they only recently gained control of the position required to use it. Starting January 2019, Democrats gained control of the House and Neal became the new Chairman. In 2016, President Trump refrained from releasing his tax returns by his own volition, prompting Democrats to try and secure them through legal means. Up until this year, sufficient legislative pressure was not available to the Democratic Party and efforts were blocked by the Trump Administration, which claimed that they could not release statements while being audited by the IRS.
In October 2018, Kevin Brady, the Republican Chairman before Neal, told CNBC why he would not demand the tax returns despite the Democrats’ arguments. “The Ways and Means Committee authority to request and make public any individual’s tax return is a powerful oversight tool to be used not for political fishing expedition, but to properly administer the tax code.”