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House Democrat Refuses New York Offer For Trump Tax Returns

Rally to demand Donald Trump release his tax returns
Rally to demand Donald Trump release his tax returns. St. Paul, Minnesota. April 15, 2017 (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

“If Neal requests the NY state tax returns, he’s undermining his own lawsuit.”

Although New York’s state legislature passed a new law to grant access to President Trump’s tax returns upon request by the House Ways and Means Committee, chairman Richard Neal does not plan on asking for them.

Rep. Neal, the only person authorized to request the documents, is fearful that calling for the president’s state tax returns could legitimize the Trump administration’s legal argument that Democratic lawmakers are on a “political fishing expedition” rather than seeking the president’s financial records for valid purposes, according to Bloomberg.

Rep. Neal believes the easy win for Trump’s state returns in New York could jeopardize his subpoena for the president’s federal returns.

Responses to Neal’s decision are mixed. Some view his move as a prudent calculation that will ultimately pay off, while others argue his tepid approach will backfire.

Martin J. Sheil, who served over 30 years as an investigator with the IRS, thinks Neal is making the right call.

“If Neal requests the NY state tax returns, he’s undermining his own lawsuit,” said Sheil. “That investigation has nothing to do with state tax returns.”

Representative Hakeem Jeffries told Bloomberg he believes the chairman might change his mind.

“At this moment in time Chairman Neal has taken this position, but we’ll see how he decides to proceed in the face of continued obstruction from the administration. That may cause the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to change his mind.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, argue Chairman Neal should stop hesitating.

“We need to know. There is an emoluments clause and a Constitution for a reason,” Rep. Jayapal told Bloomberg. The emoluments clause is a section of the Constitution that forbids members of the U.S. government from receiving gifts from foreign states. Two current lawsuits against the Trump Organization, including one filed by House Democrats, allege that President Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause, as litigators believe the president’s expansive network of luxury hotels and real estate properties are vulnerable to foreign actors seeking to gain influence with the president.

A recent OpenSecrets investigation showed the president has business interests in over 30 countries. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported a wealthy Iraqi sheikh who lobbies for regime change in Iran paid for 26 days at the luxury Trump hotel in Washington DC. Similarly, lobbyists from Saudi Arabia purchased over 500 nights from the hotel months after the 2016 election, and T-Mobile spent $195,000 at the president’s hotel while lobbying for a merger with Sprint.

Critics argue the president is compromised by his business interests and his financial records must be made public by law.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin has so far refused congressional access to Trump’s tax returns, arguing there is no legitimate legislative purpose for Chairman Neal’s request. Mnuchin’s rejection is expected to end up in court, where legal experts believe Neal has the upper hand.

“He’s got such a strong case, he’s going to get those federal tax returns,” Sheil told Bloomberg, arguing the federal records will be more revealing than the state returns. “The law is so clear.”

Progressives are concerned Chairman Neal’s slow-paced strategy will allow the president to get past the 2020 elections without releasing his returns.

“It’s hard to be certain how long these things will take, but it’s definitely months,” said Richard Arenberg, who spent three decades as a Capitol Hill staffer, told Bloomberg. “And once you move into 2020 and begin to approach the election, the potential is there that Trump could just run out the clock.”

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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