Trump loves to brag
about his supposed
financial acumen, yet
seems strangely shy
when anyone asks to
see a coherent record
of his wheelings and
The American Spark
Is Trump Afraid To Show His Tax Returns To Congress?
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 31st, 2019
Will anyone get to see Donald Trump’s tax returns? For a man who loves to brag about his supposed financial
acumen, he seems strangely shy when anyone asks to see a coherent record of his wheelings and dealings.
The U.S. House wants to see those records, to provide an essential oversight of a sitting president. But
Trump’s uncharacteristic shyness on this matter is getting to be a major legal issue.
“Though the law is clear that the treasury secretary is supposed to hand over any returns requested by the
chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee,” declared HuffPost today, “Treasury Secretary Steve
Mnuchin has all but said he’ll disobey the law ― meaning there will be a court fight.”
On Mar. 15th, a ‘Legal Sidebar’ on this thorny matter was released by the Congressional Research Service
(CRS). The CRS is charged with creating easy-to-understand, non-partisan studies of current issues for
members of Congress.
Below, the Spark quotes major sections of the five-page CRS report. On April 5th, we will quote the study’s
findings on Trump’s privacy rights.
“The Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee is reportedly preparing to send a request to the
Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to obtain President Trump’s federal tax returns.
“This request appears prompted by the President’s departure from the past practice of sitting presidents and
presidential candidates voluntarily disclosing their recent tax returns.
“This Sidebar analyzes the ability of a congressional committee to obtain the President’s tax returns under
provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC); whether the President or the Treasury Secretary might have
a legal basis for denying a committee request for the returns; and, if a committee successfully acquires the
returns, whether those returns legally could be disclosed to the public. [...]
“Because the investigative power derives implicitly from the Constitution’s vesting of legislative power in the
Congress, congressional inquiries must be undertaken ‘in aid of the legislative function.’
“This ‘legislative purpose’ requirement is relatively generous, and authorizes inquiry into any topic upon which
legislation could be had, including attempts by Congress to inform itself for purposes of determining how laws
function, whether new laws are necessary, and whether Congress should repeal or alter old laws.
“Congress may also exercise its ‘power of inquiry’ for the purposes of conducting government oversight to
ensure compliance with, and proper administration of, existing law.
“Although the investigatory power is both ‘penetrating and far reaching,’ courts have made clear that
Congress is not furthering a legislative purpose when it seeks solely to ‘expose for the sake of exposure.’
Nor does Congress possess ‘the general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen’ when
such an inquiry could ‘result in no valid legislation.’
“In light of these principles, if a chair of a tax committee seeks the President’s tax returns solely for the
purpose of public dissemination without any nexus to a legislative or oversight function, a court could view
that request as pursuing ‘exposure for the sake of exposure’ and not within Congress’ or the tax committee’s
“Yet the validity of even this type of request would be subject to some ambiguity, especially regarding returns
filed after the President took office.
“The precise line between an impermissible inquiry driven by the purpose of exposure and a permissible
inquiry involving Congress’ authority to ‘inquire into and publicize corruption, maladministration or inefficiency
in agencies of the Government’ is not clear, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court has characterized
Congress’ role in informing the public (known as the ‘informing function’) as ‘indispensable’ and ‘not to be
“One significant factor in making this determination appears [to be] whether the information sought reflects or
relates to the ‘workings of [...] government’ or [to] purely ‘private affairs.’
“There are a number of reasons why a committee’s attempts to obtain a President’s tax returns could serve a
“For example, a purpose grounded in a tax committee’s need to gather information necessary for Congress to
[make] alterations to the tax code that may relate to presidential tax obligations would seem to be ‘in aid of the
“The same may be true of a request made as part of a broader oversight effort to review the relationship
between the President and the IRS or [to discern] possible financial conflicts of interest. Under this reasoning,
a committee’s legislative purpose would appear to be strongest with regard to returns filed by a president
while in office, or perhaps while a presidential candidate, as opposed to those filed while a purely private
“The House Ways and Means Committee appears to have begun laying the groundwork to support a
valid legislative purpose for seeking the President’s tax returns. In February, the Committee’s Oversight
Subcommittee held a hearing examining the need for legislation that would require the President and Vice
President to publicly disclose their tax returns.”
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