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The Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives has asked that the I.R.S. turn over President Trump’s tax returns and related information from the past six years. The Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, notes that the reason for his request is to examine audit procedures for a president.
William S. Consovoy, retained by President Trump to represent him on this matter, responded to the request with a letter sent to the U.S. Treasury Department, advising the I.R.S. not to turn over the returns. He argues in that letter that President Trump has a privacy interest in his tax returns, which should be protected, and that the Ways and Means Committee has no legitimate reason for requesting them. He claims that the reasons put forth by Neal are disingenuous and meant to hide his true motivation, which is purely political.
The congressional authority to request tax returns is codified in 26 U.S.C. section 6103(f), which reads in part:
“Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request . . . .”
Emphasis is added here to demonstrate that, generally, the I.R.S. does not have the discretion to refuse a request for tax records from Congress. However, as Ross Garber points out in a piece written for Politico, the Supreme Court has held that Congress exceeds its constitutional authority when requesting documents without a legitimate legislative purpose. He predicts a lengthy legal battle to determine whether such a legitimate reason actually exists, which Congress will ultimately lose by reason of lack of legal authority or eventual mootness. Still, all is not lost. Garber points out that if the returns are not ultimately turned over, then they could become a future article of impeachment, for failure to turn over tax returns for improper reasons.