House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal, a Democrat, has doubled down on his request for President Donald Trump’s tax returns, telling IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a letter Saturday that he has 10 days to comply with his latest demand .
“To date, the IRS has failed to provide the requested return and return information despite an unambitious legal obligation to do so … I expect a reply from the IRS by 5:00 pm on April 23, 2019. Please know that, if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” Neal wrote.
In the two-page letter, the Massachusetts congressman also pushed back against concerns raised by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over the legitimacy of his request.
“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.”
The full letter may be read below:
During an appearance before two congressional committees earlier in the week, Mnuchin defended Trump’s right to keep his tax returns private but promised that he wouldn’t allow any political bias to interfere with his department’s decision-making regarding those returns.
His key goal, the secretary maintained, was to simply ensure the law was being followed.
“I want to acknowledge we have received the request, and as I’ve said before, we will follow the law. We are reviewing it with our internal legal department, and I will leave it at that,” he said during an appearance Tuesday before the House Financial Services Committee.
Chair Maxine Waters replied by asking him whether he was preventing the release of the president’s tax returns out of fear that he might be fired. He replied by saying no.
“You are basically saying, you will follow the law and you are not afraid that you will be fired if in fact you release the returns?” she asked.
“I’m not afraid of being fired at all,” Mnuchin replied.
The following day Mnuchin issued a formal reply to Neal, telling him in a letter that he didn’t intend to comply with the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for the time being.
He noted that Neal’s request was “unprecedented” and that more time was needed for the Treasury’s lawyers to review the matter, especially given the precedent releasing Trump’s tax returns would set.
“The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power,” he wrote.
“Given the seriousness of these issues, which bear no connection to ordinary tax administration, we have begun consultations with the Department of Justice to ensure that our response is fully consistent with the law and the Constitution.”
Secretary Mnuchin’s response to Chairman Neal’s letter requesting President Trump’s tax returns: pic.twitter.com/X2VsDYKpYh
— Tony Sayegh (@TreasurySpox) April 10, 2019
What remains unclear is why Neal seeks the president’s tax returns. He’s claimed that he simply wants to ensure that the IRS is auditing taxpayers correctly, but congressional Republicans suspect that his real motive is partisan politics.
“This is very simple: Mr. Neal wants to screw with the president,” Sen. John Kennedy argued last week to CNN host Jake Tapper. “He doesn’t think the president ought to be president. Well, you know, words can’t express how much I don’t care. It’s not Mr. Neal’s call. The American people have chosen Donald Trump as president.”
“If you don’t like it, in two years you can vote against him. In the meantime, don’t screw with him. Let him try to be president.”
Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley has also pushed back against Neal’s request.
“I, for one, haven’t seen any evidence that the IRS has suddenly changed its policy under this president – that it’s conducting a less thorough review of President Trump’s taxes than it did of previous presidents, or that it hasn’t conducted a review at all,” he said earlier this month.
“So why are Democrats considering these changes to the tax code now? Why didn’t they raise the issue under President Obama, or President Bush, or President Clinton? The answer is, nothing has changed. There’s no reason to believe the IRS is doing any less due diligence in its review of President Trump’s taxes than it has for any other president in recent memory.”
A law dating back to the 1970s requires that the president and vice president be audited annually.
“The requirement for mandatory audits of the tax returns of the president and vice president dates back to the Watergate era in the 1970s,” the IRS said in a statement to McClatchy shortly after the last presidential election. “Since then, this provision has remained in place during both Republican and Democratic administrations as well as under IRS Commissioners appointed by both parties.”
Because the two have clearly already passed a government audit, there’s no need for their tax returns to be reviewed again, let alone by a partisan Democrat, or so Republicans have argued.
Regarding Neal’s latest request to the IRS, it’s clear he has no interest in allowing the Treasury Department time to work out the legalities of releasing the president’s tax returns. What’s not so clear is whether there’s anything he can do to force the department’s hand.
According to Politico, a subpoena’s likely next.
“A subpoena likely would come next from Neal, who told Rettig the IRS has ‘an unambiguous legal obligation’ to turn over the six years of Trump’s personal tax returns and some business returns that Neal has asked for,” Politico has confirmed
A subpoena of who? Presumably, Rettig, though Mnuchin may be called to testify as well.
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