On 2 July, the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee, filed a complaint in federal court to obtain six years of President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns and the accompanying administrative files. The complaint identifies four defendants: the US Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and two individuals, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
“As part of the Ways and Means Committee’s investigation into the mandatory audit program at the IRS, I used my authority under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code to request six years of the President’s tax returns,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA).
“Despite its mandatory obligation, the Treasury Department failed to comply with the law and denied the Committee’s request. The Administration also refused to comply with the subpoenas I subsequently issued in an effort to obtain the materials. Due to that noncompliance, the Committee is now pursuing this matter in the federal courts.”
The complaint notes ‘advice from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice (OLC), which concluded that Defendants correctly disregarded the statutory command in Section 6103(f) as well as the Committee’s subpoenas because OLC has purported to detect a “political” motive for these requests’. However, it goes on to state: “The Committee’s power to conduct oversight and investigations is firmly rooted in Congress’s Article I legislative authority. And courts have long recognized that Congress’s “power of Case 1:19-cv-01974 Document 1 Filed 07/02/19 Page 3 of 49 4 inquiry – with process to enforce it – is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. It is not for the Executive or the Judiciary to examine the Committee’s motivations for its oversight inquiries. Nor does the Executive’s disdain for the Committee’s investigation provide any basis for the denial of the Committee’s Section 6103(f) request.”
On 3 April 2019, Chairman Neal sent a written request to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for six years of President Trump’s personal and related-entity tax returns. After the Commissioner failed to furnish the requested material, on 10 May 2019, the Chairman issued subpoenas to Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig for the returns. The Secretary and Commissioner did not comply with the subpoenas.
US presidents are not required by law to release their tax returns. However, between 1974 and 2012, every president but Gerald Ford has made a voluntary release of the annual tax returns they filed while in office. The tradition thus established came to an abrupt halt when President Trump declined to release any personal tax information. In fact President Richard Nixon had been the first to disclose his tax returns for 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972 in response to reports that he had taken large and potentially indefensible tax deductions.