Despite clear support from the American public, House Democrats have still not made any moves to obtain records of Trump’s taxes.
Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House on January 3, 2019, giving her blanket authority to appoint chairs of committees — including committees that govern the IRS and the Treasury Department, like the House Ways and Means and Financial Services Committees. That was 53 days ago as of Monday, February 25. And at any time, House Democrats have unilateral authority to request President Trump’s taxes.
The fact that Democrats have yet to request Trump’s taxes is puzzling, given that there’s no legal hurdles Democrats would have to jump over to obtain Trump’s taxes, as federal statutes are abundantly clear in establishing Congressional authority to obtain tax returns.
Under 26 U.S. Code § 6103, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and other members of Congress with jurisdiction over the Treasury Department can simply write a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury requesting an individual’s tax returns. While a president typically had to sign off on such a request, presidential authority over requesting tax records was rescinded following Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.
Additionally, 26 CFR § 301.7216-2 stipulates that any committee or subcommittee chair has the authority to subpoena the IRS for any taxpayer’s records without consent of the taxpayer, if such documents are necessary to complete a Congressional investigation. While Trump would likely fight any challenge to obtain his tax returns in court, the existing statutes would prove difficult for Trump’s legal team to navigate.
House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) said in December he would seek to obtain Trump’s taxes, as Trump has not yet released his tax returns, despite it being expected of presidential candidates for the past several decades. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), who chairs the House Financial services Committee, repeatedly said she would also make moves to obtain President Trump’s tax returns.
This would prove popular with American voters, 63 percent of whom said in a December 2018 Harvard CAPS/Harris poll that they would support such an action.
“[T]he public clearly favors disclosure of the tax returns of their president. This came through loud and clear so expect Democrats to be requesting them from the IRS,” Mark Penn, the co-director of the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, told The Hill.
Some on Twitter are growing impatient with House Democrats. Lawyer Will Stancil tweeted earlier this month that the new Democratic majority is running out of excuses to not seek Trump’s tax returns as time continues to march on.
“I mean there is almost literally just a big button that says ‘Get Trump’s Taxes,’ and they’re just poised over it, finger shaking in terror,” he tweeted.
I mean there is almost literally just a big button that says “Get Trump’s taxes,” and they’re just poised over it, finger shaking in terror.
— Will Stancil (@whstancil) February 14, 2019
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) says that the fact that it’s been almost two full months since Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives without action to request Trump’s tax returns from the IRS isn’t concerning, but rather just lawmakers being “deliberate.”
“The committees are now convening. They’re going to figure out who their new members are, they’re going to sit down with their new members, they’re going to say ‘what are your priorities, what are you going to see come first, second, or third?’ ” Sarbanes told Business Insider. “They’re going to try to put all that into a rational agenda for that particular committee, whether it’s oversight or legislative initiative — you’re in February. I don’t regard that as foot-dragging, I think it’s just a matter of being deliberate.”
Whether or not Trump has paid his fair share of taxes is still up for debate, as he is the first presidential candidate since 1976 to not release any tax returns. A 2018 New York Times investigation found that, as a real estate developer, the Trump family — including Donald, his father, Fred, and his siblings — used “a sham corporation” to hide millions of dollars in gifts and inheritances from tax authorities, improperly claim millions of dollars more in deductions, and undervalue their real estate portfolio to the tune of millions more. All told, the Times estimates the Trump family avoided nearly $500 million in inheritance taxes.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.