The Law Is Very Clear On Whether Congress Can Have Trump's Tax Returns

This week, Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, asked the Internal Revenue Service to provide six years of President Donald Trump's personal and business tax returns, as Bloomberg reports. Neal's request, which follows what has now been years of public and congressional pressure for Trump to voluntarily release the returns, is based on a 1924 law that gives heads of congressional tax committees the power to request any tax return in the country.

Trump has continued to indicate that the reason he has so far chosen not to release his own returns is that he has been under audit by the IRS. However, there is no law or IRS regulation that would prohibit him from doing so, regardless of the status of an audit. In fact, all sitting presidents and vice presidents are audited annually by the IRS as a matter of protocol, further eroding the concept that an audit would interfere with such a disclosure.

The law, however, is quite clear. It indicates that the Secretary of the Treasury "shall" hand over the tax returns upon request. Trump does not seem prepared to support that mandate.

"Hey, I'm under audit," he told reporters on Friday, indicating that the law is "100 percent on my side."

The president appears to be prepared for a legal battle with Democrats in order to protect his returns from pubic view. As of yet, neither the IRS, nor the Treasury Department, have given any indication as to how they will respond to Neal's request for the returns. For the moment, barring a judicial intervention, the call will come down to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who, when asked last month about how he would respond to such a request, said that he would indeed comply with the law while also committing to protecting the president's privacy.

Interpretation of that sentiment is difficult, as those two statements may prove to be mutually exclusive.

Regardless, Trump does seem prepared to fight the request, having retained a new lawyer, William Consovoy, to address the demand.

"Even if Ways and Means had a legitimate committee purpose for requesting the president's tax returns and return information, that purpose is not driving Chairman Neal's request," Consovoy wrote in a letter to an attorney for the Treasury. "His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech."