The Danger of Forcing Trump to Release his Tax Returns
The Democrats have been trying to get hold of President Trump’s tax returns since he announced his candidacy. He has, however, declined to release his returns since before he was elected, and the American people chose to vote for him anyway.
Even though every presidential candidate for several decades has voluntarily released their tax records, there is no legal requirement to do so. Since retaking the House, Democrats are now making good on their pledge to come after his tax documents.
Democrats Insist on Forcing Trump to Release his Taxes.
On April 4th the House Democrats took the first step toward forcing President Trump to release his tax returns. Chairman Richard Neal from Massachusetts has requested that the IRS release six years of Trump’s tax returns.
The request includes both business and personal returns. This request was made via letter to Charles Rettig, the IRS Commissioner.
Many on the right see this as just another petty investigation into Trump with the intent to find anything, no matter how small, to use against him. Republican Kevin Brady from Texas has blasted the request, calling it an abuse of authority.
It’s also worth noting that Democrats have already proposed that both presidential and vice presidential candidates legally be required to release 10 years worth of tax returns. So far Republicans have blocked their efforts.
This Would Set a Dangerous Precedent.
Republicans have stated that “weaponizing” tax returns is a terrible precedent to set and could have far reaching implications. If Trump is ultimately forced to release his tax returns this will potentially threaten the privacy of every American.
This could be particularly dangerous if it’s used to come after political enemies. Each American, by law, has fundamental privacy rights to their personal information. This includes personal information found in tax returns as well.
Americans of every political stripe should be concerned about the government being able to force someone to publicly release a tax return. Besides the House Ways and Means Committee, the Joint Committee on Taxation as well as the Senate Finance Committee has the power to request tax returns.
If any of these groups would ever gain access to the President’s tax documents, or anyone else’s for that matter, they would then be able to release them to the public.
Can the President be Forced to Turn Over his Tax Records?
Trump has argued that he won’t be releasing his tax returns because they are currently still under audit, but can the Democrats legally force him? The tax code does seem to provide a way for them to at least attempt to do this.
The first step is for the House Ways and Means Committee to request the returns for their own review. This has already been done with the request from Richard Neal. Neal has given the IRS until April 10 to release the documents. The law, however, is seldom cut and dried.
Throw into the mix political power plays and the Democrats may not find it as easy to get Trump’s tax returns as they think. Although Code 6103 technically gives the Ways and Means Committee power to obtain the tax returns, this particular statute must be used in a way that is consistent with the constitutional authority that is given to congress.
Kilbourn vs. Thompson (1881) is a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that congress has limited powers to look into an individual’s private finances. Watkins vs. U.S. (1957) also limited informational demands by congress.
What is Likely to Happen.
Trump and his attorneys will no doubt fight this to the bitter end. Considering that there are legal precedents that would limit the ability of the congress to receive personal information, there’s a good chance Trump may win this battle.
His lawyers could easily argue that the reasons behind the request are simply political. If both sides decide to dig in their heels, one thing is almost certain; this fight will go on for a long time.
This case could take quite a while to go through the court system. Right now, Trump and his team seem set to fight this all the way to the highest court if necessary. Before all that happens there could be a new congress in January 2021.
If the Republicans would take back the House, all the current efforts by the Democrats would likely be for nothing.