Four days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin informed him that he wasn’t going to hand over Donald Trump’s much-coveted tax records, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal issued a formal subpoena for the documents from Mnuchin and IRS commissioner Charles Rettig. The deadline for compliance is next Friday, May 17.
As Politico notes, it’s the next stage in a growing confrontation between Congress and the Trump administration on this and many other matters that will soon likely move to the federal courts:
The move comes as the administration is defying subpoenas from other Democrats investigating the executive branch, with lawmakers now in the process of holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for rejecting their demand for an unredacted version of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
If, as is widely expected, the administration rejects Neal’s subpoena as well, the next step for Democrats would likely be to sue for Trump’s confidential filings in court.
But even though it’s not going to change anything right now, a subpoena strengthens the House’s legal case, as the Washington Post observes:
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.
The administration is arguing that the entire inquiry is a violation of the president’s privacy rights. The subpoena does reach beyond the president’s personal taxes into those of his businesses, the Post reports:
Neal’s subpoenas demand 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, such as the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida
Some of Trump’s critics are probably just guessing that the returns contain damaging or at least deeply embarrassing disclosures, given the lengths to which he has gone to cloak them. But others are so certain that the returns will reveal corrupt and perhaps criminal misconduct that any means of securing them — including impeachment proceedings that would supply a clear legislative purpose for the demands — are justified.
At the very least, it’s one more straw in the hot wind of conflict between House Democrats and Trump.