We knew this was coming because some Democrats ran on this as a promise during the midterms. The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee has issued a formal request for six years worth of tax returns from President Trump, covering both his personal taxes and those of several of his businesses. While legal authority exists for the committee to do this, it’s unusual in the extreme.
A House committee chairman has formally requested the IRS provide six years of President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns as Democrats try to shed light on his complex financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest.
The request Wednesday by Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years. The unprecedented move is likely to set off a huge legal battle between Democrats controlling the House and the Trump administration.
The law in question (Title 26, Chapter 61) was passed during the Teapot Dome scandal back in the twenties when Congress was investigating the Harding administration. It’s part of a broader set of rules which protect the privacy of individual citizens with respect to all of the personal information available in their tax returns. The specific provision being invoked here does allow the chairman of Ways and Means, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation to request individual returns as part of an investigation. But it also goes on to say in the same paragraph that such a requested return can only be examined “when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”
In other words, if Richard Neal does manage to have Trump’s tax returns delivered to him and any of that information makes its way out into open hearings or to the press, he will have committed a felony. There’s also the question of the validity of a request such as this. In general terms, you only conduct an investigation when there has been a crime committed and you have reasonable cause to believe that such a disclosure would be fruitful in resolving the matter.
What specific crime took place that might be resolved by viewing Donald Trump’s tax returns? The idea of proving some sort of conflict of interest is a fascinating one, because it would essentially set a precedent saying that anyone with any business interests should be barred from running for the presidency. After all, every decision the White House makes could arguably impact any business in the country in some way or another. The Democrats would also apparently like to claim that if anyone from a foreign country spends the night at a Trump hotel they’ve committed some sort of “collusion.”
The more you read through the details of this request, the more it begins to look like this is yet another fishing expedition. But the Democrats in the House are playing with fire on this one. They would obviously like to find some dirt in Trump’s tax returns and air it out in the media to gain an advantage in the next elections. But if they do, the Justice Department might have quite a few things to say about that.