House Ways and Means chair issues subpoenas for Trump tax returns

“While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material," said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

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By Alex Moe and Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., on Friday took the next step in his battle to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, issuing subpoenas for the records to the Treasury Department and IRS.

In a statement, Neal said that he decided to issue the subpoenas to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig after the administration denied his initial request on April 3.

“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,” Neal said.

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“While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material. I sincerely hope that the Treasury Department will furnish the requested material in the next week so the committee can quickly begin its work,” he added.

Anticipating Neal’s move Friday, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, ranking member on Ways and Means, wrote to him earlier in the day, pleading with him not to move forward with subpoenas, which Brady called a “compulsory process.”

“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 and use Congress’s legitimate oversight authority for political gain,” said Brady, who added that Neal’s request is merely meant “to try to embarrass a political enemy.”

Neal’s decision Friday to issue the subpoenas comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday formally rejected his request for the tax returns, failing for the third time to meet a congressional deadline to turn over the documents. Mnuchin told Neal in a letter that the request for the president's tax returns “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

It is considered highly unlikely that top administration officials will comply with the subpoenas, as White House officials have firmly said that Trump’s tax returns will not be released.

Some House Democrats have posed the idea of potentially holding Mnuchin in contempt, as the House Judiciary Committee this week recommended the House do to Attorney General William Barr after he failed to comply with a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying materials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested at her weekly press conference Thursday that House Democrats might also vote on additional contempt citations.

Under Section 6103 of the U.S. tax code, if Neal or Senate Finance Committee chair Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, or the head of the Joint Committee on Taxation formally requests a person’s tax returns, Treasury officials “shall” turn the documents over, language which leading tax analysts have said means officials must provide them.