Key Democrat Signals Caution on Seeking Trump’s Tax Returns

(Bloomberg) -- The top tax writer in the House signaled he’ll proceed with caution on requesting President Donald Trump’s tax returns, despite pressure from liberal groups to make it a top priority.

“This has to be part of a carefully prepared and documented legal case,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts told reporters on Thursday. “It’s not subject to just whim and the emotion of the moment.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said shortly after her party won control of the House in November’s mid-term elections that asking the Treasury Department to release Trump’s tax returns -- something the chairs of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have the legal authority to do -- would be one of the first things accomplished in the new Congress. Now, after examining just what it will take to make this happen, Democrats are moving slowly and haven’t set a timetable.

The Trump tax return issue has long been a touchy subject for Democrats. For lawmakers in the most left leaning districts, such as Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Representative Judy Chu of California, releasing Trump’s tax returns is a top priority. But for some members, including many newly-elected Democrats from more conservative districts, backing an effort to release the president’s tax information is politically risky.

Outside Congress, progressive groups are urging Neal to make the request immediately. Tax March, Stand Up America and Indivisible sent a letter to Neal on Thursday saying the request isn’t partisan, but rather an attempt to understand how the Trump administration’s policies affect the president personally.

“Democrats pledged to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns as part of their oversight agenda, and we will hold them accountable for that promise,” Maura Quint, executive director of Tax March, said in a statement. “There is no need to slow-walk this. We have played this game for years, and Donald Trump will not willingly release his tax returns.”

Neal said he’s been working with committee staff since the midterm elections to prepare the request, but the approach is very “tempered.” The push could become the basis for a long legal battle between the committee and the Treasury Department, he said. If Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were to block the request, Democrats would likely turn to the courts to fight the battle.

“My advice is don’t open this Pandora’s Box,” Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means committee, said Thursday. “Don’t use a provision designed to protect taxpayer privacy to rummage around in President Trump’s tax returns purely for political purposes.”

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