House Ways and Means Chairman Issues Subpoenas for Trump's Tax Returns
WASHINGTON—Rep. Richard Neal issued subpoenas Friday to the Treasury secretary and IRS chief seeking six years of President Trump’s tax returns and audit records, taking the next formal step in the dispute between House Democrats and the Treasury Department.
Democrats don’t expect Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin or Charles Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, to comply with the subpoenas, following Mr. Mnuchin’s rejection of a previous written request from Mr. Neal and following the administration’s general refusal to provide documents for House Democrats’ investigations. The subpoenas, issued on the advice of House lawyers, link the tax-return fight to the existing body of law governing congressional information requests.
“While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material,” Mr. Neal said.
Treasury and IRS officials said Friday they had received the subpoenas.
Mr. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, requested the tax records last month, using a power the tax code gives him as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Under that provision, which dates to the aftermath of the Teapot Dome scandal in 1924, the chairman can seek any taxpayer’s returns and the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” them.
The law is clear, but Mr. Mnuchin argued in a letter on Monday that Mr. Neal’s request exceeded Congress’s constitutional authority because it lacked a legitimate legislative purpose. Mr. Mnuchin wrote that the Justice Department would publish a more detailed legal opinion, though that hasn’t happened yet.
Although the tax-code provision requires Mr. Mnuchin to produce any requested documents, it doesn’t outline deadlines or penalties for noncompliance. The subpoenas, which set a May 17 deadline, could help address those issues because courts may treat that deadline like they would treat that of any other congressional subpoena.
Mr. Neal also responded to an argument Mr. Mnuchin has made. The secretary has argued that limiting the request to Mr. Trump showed that Democrats weren’t really interested in how the IRS was auditing presidential tax returns.
Mr. Trump’s extensive business holdings and claims about audits make him different, Mr. Neal wrote in letters accompanying the subpoenas.
“The tax issues raised by the current president are unique,” he wrote.
Mr. Neal, who became Ways and Means chairman in January, has been saying for months that he expected the tax-returns fight to end up in court. It is now likely headed there and could take months, at least, to resolve.