Democrats' deadline for Trump tax returns sure to be missed
President Donald Trump, facing a congressional deadline for his administration to provide his tax returns, said again Wednesday that he won't do so while he's under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
Trump has broken with tradition by not voluntarily releasing his tax returns, repeatedly claiming he can't because his organization is under audit.
"While I'm under audit, I won't do it," he said Wednesday morning from the White House lawn before departing for an event in Texas.
"Frankly the people don't care," he added, pointing to the fact he won the 2016 election bucking the recent practice of candidates regarding tax returns.
IRS commissioner Charles Rettig said in congressional testimony this week that there's no rule prohibiting taxpayers under audit from releasing their returns.
Richard Neal, chair of the House's ways and means committee, has asked the IRS to turn over six years of the president's tax returns by the end of Wednesday.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who supervises the IRS, said Tuesday that he's not seeking direction from the White House on whether to comply. He said the department would likely respond by Neal's deadline but didn't say whether he would provide the returns as demanded.
'We intend to follow through with this'
Democrats don't expect the department to comply, but they haven't sketched out their next steps.
Neal, from Massachusetts, has adopted a methodical approach to seeking Trump's returns. He has the option of eventually seeking to subpoena the records or to go to court if the IRS does not comply, but it's not clear he'll adopt a more confrontational approach just yet.
"We intend to follow through with this," Neal said Wednesday. "I'll let you know fast."
The request for Trump's tax filings is but one of many oversight efforts launched by Democrats after taking back the House in last fall's midterms. Neal is relying on a 1920s-era law that says the IRS "shall furnish" any tax return requested by the chairs of key House and Senate committees.
"I have said, 'We will comply with the law,'" Mnuchin told the House financial services committee on Tuesday. "I have not made a comment one way or the other on whether we will provide the tax returns."
"We would never ask for the White House's permission on this," he said at another point during his testimony.
No instructions from White House: IRS head
Rettig faced questions from lawmakers for a second day on his response to Neal's request.
"We're working on a response with counsel and we will respond," Rettig said.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden accused Rettig of evasiveness on social media, and said the IRS chief is authorized to handle the request.
Trump has made it clear there’s information in his tax returns he wants to remain hidden.—@RonWyden
Whether tax returns are made available to Congress has always been the IRS Commissioner’s decision. He should be the one to make it, not Trump himself.
Rettig had agreed with Democrats on Tuesday that it's primarily his decision to make, though he reports to Mnuchin. "You must be aware that we're a bureau of Treasury, and Treasury supervises us," he told Wyden.
Rettig said he hadn't been instructed not to comply with the request by anyone acting on the White House's behalf.
During the 2016 campaign, Rettig defended Trump's decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his tax filings.
Under questioning at his confirmation hearing last August, Rettig pledged to uphold the political independence of the IRS.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that lawmakers will "never" see Trump's returns. But the White House is supposed to stay out of the decision, and Rettig has said he's had no contact with anyone there.
Some House Republicans rose to Trump's defence on Tuesday.
"We have no evidence of anything nefarious. We have no evidence that there's any wrongdoing," said Chris Stewart, Republican from Utah.
Stewart said the request tramples on Trump's right to privacy.