As expected, the House Democrats demanded the last six years of President Donald Trump‘s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., demanded both personal and business tax information from 2013-2018, including individual and corporate tax returns. Trump has failed to supply his tax records in a departure from decades of tradition. He is wrong to do so. However, the oversight value of these taxes seem sketchy at best.
There is no question that the Committee can demand such records from the IRS. Yet, the explanation by Neal seems a tad opportunistic. There is no allegation of criminal wrongdoing or impeachable acts. Instead, Neal claims that the Committee desperately needs Trump’s taxes because it is necessary to ensure “the accountability of our government and elected officials. To maintain trust in our democracy, the American people must be assured that their government is operating properly, as laws intend.” He claims that the Committee might use the records to help establish tax policies.
Neal is relying on authority under the tax code granted only to the tax-writing committees in Congress that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee the power to request tax information on any filer.
I would certainly support a mandatory requirement for the release of tax records for anyone running for president. However, you do not have to see Trump’s record to advance such an objectively worthy goal. Until Trump, we did not need such a law since presidents since Nixon have acknowledged the reasonableness of such a demand and released their records.
Yet, this is not the Judiciary Committee alleging that there is some potential transactional or banking crime. The Committee’s rationale could not be more generalized and ambiguous. Neal insisted “This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration.”
It is hard not to see the politics in this demand however. That could set up a fight in the courts. I tend to favor Congress in such fights and I expect the Committee would prevail. However, a court fight could take time with the 2020 campaigns already unfolding.