WASHINGTON (AP) — Getting President Donald Trump’s tax returns is high on the list of Democratic priorities now that they have won the House.
By law, the leaders of tax-writing committees in the House and Senate can obtain tax returns and related information from the Internal Revenue Service. Democrats will control the House panel next year.
Yet there’s no guarantee that the Trump administration will provide the president’s returns. That sets up the possibility of a legal battle over the request that could take years to resolve.
Trump broke with political tradition in 2016 by refusing to release his income tax filings. He says he won’t release them because he’s under audit, and he claimed at a press conference this week that the filings are too complex for people to understand.
The Democrats tried and failed several times to obtain Trump’s returns as the minority party in Congress. Now, having gained some control, they see them within their grasp.
Eyes are on Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who is now the senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and will become its chairman in January.
When asked Wednesday whether the committee under his control would ask for the documents, Neal said, “Yes, I think we will.”
If the Trump administration refuses and mounts a legal challenge, Neal said, “Then I assume that there would be a court case that would go on for a period of time.”
A legal fight could potentially even stretch beyond the 2020 presidential election, suggested Andy Grewal, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.
Grewal has maintained that a request for Trump’s returns, if made for “purely political purposes,” may exceed the limits of Congress’ authority.
Starting with the 2016 campaign, Trump broke with political tradition by repeatedly refusing to release his income tax filings. Those filings are deemed sacredly secret for citizens, but traditionally not for presidents. Trump has said he hasn’t released them because his taxes are under audit by the IRS — even though experts and IRS officials say such audits don’t bar taxpayers from releasing their returns.
Asked about releasing his filings, Trump reaffirmed that justification during a post-election news conference Wednesday. “They’re under audit. They have been for a long time,” the president said. “They’re extremely complex. People wouldn’t understand them.”
Giving a slight opening, Trump said that if the audit was completed, “I would have an open mind to it. I would say that.” But, he added, “Nobody turns over a return when it’s under audit.”
In 2017, more than a million people signed a petition to the White House urging Trump to make the returns public.
Questions loom: Was the swaggering longtime businessman and real estate mogul really worth $10 billion when he entered the White House, as he has claimed? Are there conflicts of interest lurking? How has his global panoply of properties and other assets been valued for taxation purposes? What are the sources of his income and to whom might he be beholden as a result? Does Trump stand to gain personally from the sweeping Republican tax law enacted late last year, which he championed, and, if so, how specifically?
Among the sought-after details: Trump’s charitable giving, the type of deductions he claimed, how much he earned from his assets and what strategies he deployed to reduce his tax bill.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi declined during a press conference Wednesday to specifically address the question of Trump’s returns, saying only that Congress has “a constitutional responsibility to have oversight” and citing examples such as the government’s environmental policy that would be ripe for Congress to investigate.
In this Nov. 7, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Getting Trump’s tax returns is high on the list of Democratic priorities now that they have won the House.