(Bloomberg) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady rejected a call by some Democrats to use his authority to demand to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Brady, a Texas Republican, said he disagreed with efforts led by Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, to reveal the president’s tax documents—at least in part so they could be reviewed for potential links to foreign nations. Pascrell has said the chairman has the legal authority to demand any individual’s tax returns under a law that was invoked in the 1970s by a bipartisan commission to force former President Richard Nixon to disclose his returns.
“If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans?” Brady said to reporters Monday. “Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them.”
Pascrell sent a letter on Feb. 1 to Brady, urging him to invoke the little-used law, which allows chairs of Congress’s tax-writing committees to review an individual’s tax returns if that serves a legitimate committee purpose, and potentially make them public. Previously, the law gave the president the authority to order a disclosure as well. Pascrell requested a review of 10 years’ worth of Trump’s tax returns.
Trump has departed from roughly 40 years of tradition for major-party presidential nominees by keeping his returns secret, saying his lawyers advised him not to release returns while he’s under audit. He said last February that he had been under continuous audit for the past 12 years; his lawyers released an unusual letter in March that said the years 2009 forward remained under review. There’s no law or rule that prevents people under audit from making their returns public.
Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s successful election campaign, said last month that Trump wouldn’t be releasing his returns while he’s under audit. In practical terms, that may mean the public never sees Trump’s returns while he’s in office since the Internal Revenue Service has administrative procedures that make the president’s tax returns subject to mandatory examinations every year.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Pascrell’s effort to subject Trump’s tax returns to review during the House Democrats’ retreat in Baltimore last week—she said invoking the rule could serve as “the first step” toward forcing release of Trump’s tax returns.
“I’ve read his letter and I disagree with all of it,” Brady said. “That letter misrepresents the legislative intent of that provision, which in fact creates confidentiality and privacy for Americans in their tax returns.”
Pascrell said in a statement following Brady’s comments that labeling the request “rummaging” is “the height of chutzpah.”
“I hoped and still hope that my friend Kevin Brady will put country over party,” Pascrell said. “This isn’t a partisan issue.”
Brady also called for IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to be fired during his comments to reporters Monday afternoon. He called Koskinen “the most corrupt IRS commissioner I’ve ever dealt with.” The House Freedom Caucus, which represents the right flank of the GOP, has sought to impeach Koskinen for allegedly misleading Congress, an effort that House leaders so far haven’t taken up.
“Until he’s removed I don’t think the IRS will ever regain its credibility,” Brady said.
Koskinen “has always testified truthfully before Congress,” said Matthew Leas, an IRS spokesman. “He remains focused on the important work of the IRS, including the successful start of this year’s filing season for the nation’s taxpayers.”
The president has the power to make two political appointments at the IRS—the commissioner and chief counsel. Koskinen, whose term expires in November 2017, said before the election he’d resign immediately if the next president asked him to.
- Sahil Kapur