Wednesday is the deadline for the IRS to respond to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal’s request for Donald Trump’s tax returns, but with Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s chief of staff, saying the administration will “never” turn them over, Wednesday is likely to be the beginning of a new phase of this fight.
Trump’s lawyers claim, in a letter to the Treasury Department, that “Ways and Means has no legitimate committee purpose for requesting the President’s tax returns or return information. While the committee has jurisdiction over taxes, it has no power to conduct its own examination of individual taxpayers.” That’s not what the law says, though:
Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives […] the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request …
Is there a but? There is, but it doesn’t undermine Neal’s right to the tax returns: It just says that tax information “which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer” will only go to the committee “when sitting in closed executive session.” So it means that the public may not get to find out what’s in Trump’s tax returns—there are major penalties if the information leaks, though it can be released by a committee vote—but Neal’s right to the information is encompassed in the phrase “shall furnish.”
With Team Trump refusing to obey or even acknowledge the law, though, Neal and House Democrats are going to have to be unbending, as Neal previewed last week when he told reporters that “We wanted to make sure that the case we constructed was one that stood up under the critical scrutiny of the courts” and “surely there will be” next steps in the fight.