A House committee issued subpoenas Friday ordering Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig to turn over President Trump’s tax returns by next Friday at 5 p.m., according to copies of the subpoenas provided by the committee.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) authorized the subpoenas following months of disagreements with the Trump administration over whether federal law mandates Congress can obtain the records.
“The IRS is under a mandatory obligation to provide the information requested,” the subpoena states. “The IRS has had more than four weeks to comply with the Committee’s straightforward request. Therefore, please see the enclosed subpoena.”
Trump refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign in a break with decades of precedent from previous presidents. Legal experts have said Mnuchin’s refusal to turn over the returns is unprecedented, noting a 1924 law that explicitly gives lawmakers the authority to seek the records.
A Treasury Department spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the subpoena.
The subpoenas come amid a widening legal conflict between House Democrats and the White House over a range of oversight issues, with the administration invoking executive privilege to prevent Trump's former counsel from giving certain records to Congress.
Neal first demanded six years of Trump’s personal and business returns, from 2013 to 2018, in letters to the administration last month.
Neal’s subpoenas demand that for these years Mnuchin and Rettig turn over Trump’s individual income tax returns, all “administrative files” such as affidavits for those income tax returns, and income tax returns for a number of Trump’s business holdings such as the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, an umbrella entity that controls dozens of other businesses including the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
The Trump administration has rejected Democrats’ requests for the president’s tax returns as violations of taxpayer privacy, with an attorney hired by the president and congressional Republicans echoing similar concerns. Mnuchin repeatedly asked for more time to respond to Neal’s request before rejecting it outright earlier this month.
“I think we’re coming to the point where we’re running out of letters to write,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview Thursday.
If Mnuchin and Rettig do not turn over the returns, Neal could respond by going to a congressional body to authorize a lawsuit in federal court against the two Trump administration officials. That body, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, is controlled by Democrats.
The subpoena could bolster Neal’s position in federal court because it will help him demonstrate he pursued all possible avenues to obtain the returns before filing a lawsuit against the administration, said Steve Rosenthal, a legal expert at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. That, at least in theory, will make it less likely for the court to strike down his claim on procedural grounds.
“A week now could save many months later,” Rosenthal said.
Even if House Democrats receive Trump’s tax returns, there is still no guarantee they will be made public. Legal experts say leaking the returns is a violation of privacy law that could be punishable with up to five years in prison, a provision intended to ensure taxpayer privacy, said George Yin, a legal expert at the University of Virginia.
Earlier this week, the New York Times published a report, based on data from 10 years of Trump’s federal tax returns, showing Trump reported more than $1 billion in losses to the IRS and lost more money than almost every other U.S. taxpayer from 1985 to 1994.
Earlier on Friday, Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, cautioned Neal against issuing a subpoena, “Such actions would be an abuse of the committee’s oversight powers and further examples of the Democrat majority’s coordinated attempt to weaponize the tax code,” he argued.
Damian Paletta contributed to this report.