It took long enough.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS on Wednesday for six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request with which the president immediately said he was not inclined to comply.
The committee chairman’s letter to the Internal Revenue Service — and Trump’s immediate and public response — set up what is likely to become an intense and drawn-out court fight as Democrats push to see tax records they think can shed light on numerous aspects of Trump’s business dealings and Trump resists their demands. The Ways and Means chairman’s request was expected but nonetheless represented a significant escalation in House Democrats’ wide-ranging probes of Trump and his administration.
The IRS was given until April 10 to respond. The panel’s chairman was able to make the request because of a 1924 law that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee broad powers to request and receive the tax returns of any American.
“Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans — including those elected to our highest office — are complying with those laws.”
Trump broke with precedent when he refused as a presidential candidate, and then when elected, to release his tax returns, something every president since Richard M. Nixon has done. The explanation he gave was that he was being audited, although numerous experts have said that an audit would not have prevented him from releasing his returns.
I’m going to predict that this battle, more than anything about the election of 2016 and who colluded with whom, will last long after Trump has left office and will lead eventually to civil if not criminal charges.
The Republicans will carry on about a fishing expedition (as opposed to what Ken Starr did with the Clintons?) and eventually it will end up at the Supreme Court where Trumpistas will challenge the right of Congress to have the temerity to investigate the Executive branch via a law that dates back 95 years.
The House committee is casting a wide net, including in their request not just tax returns for Trump himself but for a lot of his shell corporations and shelters. That’s probably why it took four months since taking control of Congress for Rep. Neal to gather together the support to make the request and prove in court why the House committee wants to look at the records. They knew this was going to be a long haul.