Donald Trump’s Lawyer Warns IRS That Turning Over Tax Returns Will Do ‘Lasting Damage To Our Nation’

Donald Trump speaks in a meeting.
Chip Somodevilla

One of President Donald Trump’s lawyers wrote a letter to the Treasury Department indicating that the IRS should reject the request by House Democrats to turn over Trump’s tax returns, The Wall StreetJournal reports. The request, which was made by Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is grounded in a 1924 law that gives heads of congressional tax committees the power to request any tax return in the country.

The law, as it is written, is clear. It indicates that the secretary of the Treasury “shall” hand over the tax returns upon request.

The letter, however, tells a different story.

Written by Trump’s lawyer, William Consovoy, to Treasury General Counsel Brent McIntosh, the letter makes the case that turning over Trump’s returns for what the Trump administration has characterized as partisan purposes would be the beginning of a slippery slope for United States politics and government.

“If the IRS acquiesces to Chairman Neal’s request, it would set a dangerous precedent,” Consovoy said in the letter. “Once this Pandora’s box is opened, the ensuing tit-for-tat will do lasting damage to our nation.”

The president appears to be prepared for a legal battle with Democrats in order to protect his returns from being released. As of yet, the Treasury Department has given no 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 comply with the law while also committing to protecting the president’s privacy.

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“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 the letter to 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.”

Consovoy’s point of view has been backed up in the past by high judicial rulings, including a Supreme Court case, according to Law & Crime who indicate that just because the request was made, doesn’t mean that the IRS is required to automatically comply. In fact, some analysts say, Congress must demonstrate a legislative purpose for such a request.

“There is no congressional power to expose for the sake of exposure,” says a 1957 Supreme Court decision, Watkins v. United States.