Under significant pressure from progressive advocacy groups, Democratic Rep. Richard Neal on Wednesday formally requested President Donald Trump's tax returns—setting the stage for what many expect to be a lengthy legal battle.
Tax March, a progressive organization that for months has urged Neal to request the president's returns immediately, applauded the House Ways and Means chairman for acting.
"We commend Chairman Neal for finally taking the necessary action to conduct effective oversight of President Trump and his administration," said Tax March executive director Maura Quint.
"While we had hoped this action would have been taken earlier," Quint added, "we trust that Chairman Neal will effectively and efficiently manage this process to bring the American people answers about Trump's numerous conflicts of interest, dubious tax schemes, and allegations of fraud."
Stand Up America similarly applauded the move as an "important step toward transparency."
This is an important step toward transparency.https://t.co/3Qtqg1Zjza
— Stand Up America (@StandUpAmerica) April 3, 2019
In a letter to the IRS Wednesday, Neal requested six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns, and set a compliance deadline of April 10.
"It is critical to ensure the accountability of our government and elected officials," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement. "To maintain trust in our democracy, the American people must be assured that their government is operating properly, as laws intend."
Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin—who oversees the IRS—signaled that he would not comply with a request for Trump's tax returns, despite what experts say is a clear legal obligation.
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"We will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights," Mnuchin said.
Asked about the Democrats' request on Wednesday, Trump said he is "under audit"—an excuse he has used for over three years—and "would not be inclined" to release his returns.
"We're under audit, despite what people said. We're working that out as—I'm always under audit, it seems," the president said. "But, I've been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess, when you have a name, you're audited."
The IRS has said Trump can release his tax returns even if they are under audit.
President Trump reacts to House Democrats trying to secure six years of his personal and business tax returns: "Is that all? Usually it’s ten, so I guess they’re giving up." https://t.co/JuYUW4rNc0 pic.twitter.com/H18gekjLJ1
— The Hill (@thehill) April 4, 2019
Democrats were quick to respond that, under the law, the president doesn't have a choice.
"We are well aware that the president is not inclined to be transparent, but this is not up to him," tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "Federal law is clear that our chairman has the legal authority to request and receive these returns and the administration has no legal basis to refuse to comply with this request."
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, urged Mnuchin and the IRS to "promptly fulfill their ministerial duty."
"After two years of Republican coverup and three long months in this new Congress, today's request represents a strong beginning," Doggett said in a statement. "If the president insists that he is above the law and directs that the unequivocal mandate be ignored, we should move forward immediately with legal action."