As a matter of course, we bury the lede in virtually every, single post we publish in these not-so-venerable pages, but we’re going to break with historical precedent here and just give you the goods right up front.
Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal sent a letter (embedded in full below) to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Wednesday demanding six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns. Neal cited, among other things, the committee’s oversight responsibilities.
“We must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities,” Neal said, in the letter, adding that “the committee has a duty to examine whether congressional action may be needed to require such audits, and to oversee that they are conducted properly.”
Now, here is Donald Trump, having a truly horrible hair day and flanked by at least one general, explaining why he continues to insist on breaking with four decades of tradition by steadfastly refusing to release his tax returns.
Let’s just run through that. First of all, that’s “disgusted, fatalistic Trump”, an amusing variant whose cameos are generally confined to days when the president is exhausted with bearing the burden of the office and also with bearing the burden of being Donald Trump (it’s not always clear which of those “jobs” is harder).
Very much unlike “stadium rally Trump”, “Adderall-snorting, beast mode Trump” and “angry, defensive Trump”, “disgusted, fatalistic Trump” doesn’t even try when it comes to making the excuses sound convincing – he just reads off a mental Rolodex in what, for him, counts as a monotone.
That’s the cadence the president adopted on Wednesday at the White House, in the course of saying this:
I’m always under audit – I’ve been under audit for many years because, uh, the numbers are big and I guess when you have a name, you’re audited.
Now, for one thing, you do not get audited just because “the numbers are big” and because “you have a name.” That’s ridiculous. But it plays well with the base – it’s an easy out for Trump, whose go-to narrative at rallies when it comes to the tax question is simply to suggest that he’s perpetually under audit because his business empire is so vast that the IRS is incapable of conceiving of it and also because he makes an amount of money so large that even the most powerful computers take years to process it.
Never mind the fact that there is no law stating that a taxpayer can’t produce returns that are under audit.
For his part, Neal wants the returns within a week and if you’re wondering whether this is up to Trump, it’s actually not – or at least it shouldn’t be. In normal times, this would be up to Steve Mnuchin who testified on this very issue last month. We documented that testimony at length, but here is the (visual) Cliffs Notes version:
Mnuchin also claimed that he hadn’t discussed this with the White House, which is almost certainly a lie.
Kevin Brady wasn’t happy with Neal on Wednesday, calling the request a “misguided effort to impeach” and accusing Democrats of “weaponizing our tax code” and thereby “setting a dangerous precedent.” Brady wrote a letter to Mnuchin, urging Treasury not to comply with the request. You can read that letter in full below, as well.
To be clear, the committee can demand any filer’s returns they see fit to demand and a simple read is that Treasury cannot refuse the request. “The provision, which dates in some form to the Teapot Dome scandal of Warren G. Harding’s administration, at least on its face gives the Trump administration little room to decline a request like Mr. Neal’s”, The New York Times writes, before noting that the language simply states that “the Treasury secretary ‘shall’ furnish the information.”
Or maybe not. Because you’ve got to think that Trump has already called Mnuchin and said something to the effect of, “you ‘shall’ not furnish the information, Steve, or else I ‘shall’ summarily replace you.” Don’t forget, Trump is already irritated at Mnuchin over Jerome Powell.
Long story short, if Mnuchin stalls, it would set the stage for yet another legal fight between the White House and Congress.Neal Letter to Rettig (signed) - 2019.04.03