The tax returns the president doesn’t want anyone to see are within reach.
Donald Trump broke with many political norms while running for president, chief among them the long-standing tradition of releasing his tax returns to the public. He’s refused to do so even after being elected, swearing up and down that the American people couldn’t care less about his finances: “I won. I became president. I mean, I don’t think they care at all.” (White House staffers have used similar deflection tactics: “Is this really what we’re talking about today?” Kellyanne Conway snapped when CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked her about documents on Wednesday.) Despite the fact that this statement by the president is demonstrably false, Trump’s refusal to release his returns has worked out O.K. for the first two years of his presidency—in the sense that members of Republican-controlled Congress, who would lay down in traffic if Trump told them to, have so far let him get away with it. But, as you’ve probably heard, the House is one lame-duck session away from being controlled by Democrats. And they have a keener interest in getting a look-see at what Trump has been hiding!
According to MSNBC’s Ari Melber, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, has already said he intends to request Trump’s returns as soon as he takes control of the committee. That fits with House leader Nancy Pelosi’s assertion to the San Francisco Chronicle last month, that obtaining the president’s returns would be “one of the first things we’d do” upon flipping the House. “That’s the easiest thing in the world,” she added. “That’s nothing. We have to have the truth.” Pelosi was referring to a 1924 provision of the Internal Revenue Code that gives the the House Ways and Means Committee the ability to commandeer a taxpayer’s records for confidential review—something that can be done without full approval from the House and Senate. Despite having this power for nearly 100 years, Congress has rarely ever used it. One time they did? In 1974, while investigating Richard Nixon’s returns, which is how they determined he was, in fact, a crook.
The one potential stumbling block is the fact that the House would have to go through Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, though at this point he’s said he’ll comply with the law, telling The New York Times, “If they win the House and there is a request, we will work with our general counsel and the I.R.S. general counsel on any requests.” And then, of course, there’s the giant orange stumbling block who probably isn’t about to just turn over documents he’s steadfastly refused to reveal for nearly three years now. Speaking to CNN on Monday, Trump said, of Democrats going after his returns, “I don’t care. They can do whatever they want, and I can do whatever I want.”