- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2019

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal issued a subpoena Friday ordering the IRS and Treasury Department to turn over President Trump’s tax returns, escalating the battle.

Should they refuse, the matter could turn into yet another contempt of Congress showdown, joining the one already underway between the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Neal had already set two deadlines for requests for the returns, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet either of them. He says Democrats’ request is illegitimate, and so it would be illegal to reveal the president’s returns.

Mr. Neal refuted those claims in a statement Friday, saying his committee is looking at how the IRS goes about its audits, and getting a look at the president’s returns is a critical part of that.

“After reviewing the options available to me, and upon the advice of counsel, I issued subpoenas today to the secretary of the Treasury and the commissioner of the IRS for six years of personal and business returns,” he said.

The Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to recommend the House hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the full special counsel’s report and supporting evidence on the 2016 election, which the panel had subpoenaed.

No full House vote has been scheduled on that. Asked about time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday they might wait for other contempt issues to bubble up.

She didn’t say what she had in mind, but the tax returns feud could well become another flashpoint.

Tax returns are usually supposed to be kept strictly secret.

But one provision of law allows the chairmen of the top tax committees to demand access to the information.

Most scholars say that can only be done if there’s a legitimate legislative purpose for it, which is why Mr. Neal has cast his demand for six years of the president’s personal and business returns as an exercise in looking at how the IRS handles audits of presidents.

Yet other Democrats have been less circumspect, saying they want to see the returns in order to embarrass the president.

Mr. Mnuchin says he suspects that’s the more likely motive for the chairman’s request, and he has said he won’t comply. He said the Justice Department agrees with him, and will soon issue an official opinion to that effect.

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