If you recall back to the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump, as a candidate, was the first in modern times to decline the release of his personal tax returns. At first, he said the returns were under routine audit and he would consider releasing them once the audit was complete. The time came and went on that promise and eventually Trump simply decided not to release the returns calling the request a “media witch hunt.” His further rationale was that the voters he spoke with didn’t care about his tax returns, it was only his political adversaries who wanted them released. It is illegal for the Internal Revenue Service to release tax returns to the public without the explicit consent of the taxpayer. Barring any “leaks” from within, Trump’s tax returns have been safely locked away from prying eyes.
That, however, could change if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in November. In fact, if Democrats take the house, there is very little preventing them from at least obtaining copies of the tax returns privately, though releasing them to the public would still be illegal.
The HuffPost reports on just how adamant some Democrats are about getting access to those returns if Democrats win the House:
“You’re damn right” Democrats will vote to get Trump’s tax returns if they win a majority in November, said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
“As the smoke continues to build with one revelation after another, there is greater need than ever to see what Trump may be hiding in his personal tax returns, the return information to explain them and those of the 500 business entities, which he controls from here to Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is a co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, a messaging body for the party leadership, said, “If Democrats take back the House, I’ll fully support efforts to finally make his tax returns public.”
Bills introduced by Democratic lawmakers to require future presidential candidates, including Trump, to disclose their tax returns have gone nowhere in their respective committees.
Pascrell says he’s going to keep pressing the issue, whether in the minority or the majority. “We have a right to know if there are any potential conflicts of interest that affect him,” Pascrell said.
Once Democrats in the House get ahold of the returns, there isn’t much to prevent their contents from being fully or partially leaked. Leaking the returns would be a crime, sure, but it may be a leak Democrats would like to see prior to the 2020 election, especially if the returns contain information which shows the semblance of wrongdoing or challenge claims about Trump’s true net worth. We really have no idea what, if anything, the returns would contain that would damage the President, but Democrats are betting it may help them politically by promising to push forward on this topic if they control the House.
Politico also says that if Democrats had the majority in the Senate, they could do the same thing:
But according to the rules already on the books, the Senate doesn’t need a new law to see Trump’s returns. Rather, action by a single Senate Republican may be all that is needed to initiate an immediate investigation of Trump’s tax returns and begin the process of discovery.
According to a law passed in 1924, in part to address concerns about conflicts of interest involving executive branch officials such as treasury secretary Andrew Mellon, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation have the right to obtain from the IRS any person’s tax returns—including the president’s—without his consent and to conduct an investigation. If there is a legitimate purpose, the committees may then release the tax information to the Congress for potential disclosure to the public.
Right now, the Republicans hold a mere one-vote majority in the Finance Committee, which means consent by a single Republican on that committee could be enough to authorize committee action. Once authorized, the committee could act immediately and unilaterally without the agreement of the rest of Congress, the passage of a new law, or the filing of any lawsuit.
As Politico notes, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, and the prospects for Democrats to take it back in 2018 are grim. But, if Democrats somehow did win the Senate back, or were able to persuade a single Republican on the committee to join them, they too could gain easy access to Trump’s tax returns by a simple request.
How far this message will go with voters is another matter. Surely there are plenty of Democrats who see this as a winning issue because they believe the President is hiding something – ties to Russia? – other financial crimes? – the possibilities, as they see them, are endless.