WASHINGTON—Democrats will seek a firsthand look at President Trump’s tax returns if they take control of the House or Senate after next month’s election, according to the key lawmakers who would gain the authority to get the documents.
Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.), in line to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats win that chamber, said he would get the documents, which the president has declined to release voluntarily.
“Yes,” Mr. Neal said when asked if he would request the returns. “We will do that.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) followed Mr. Neal on Wednesday, saying for the first time that he would request the tax returns if he became Finance Committee chairman in January.
Mr. Trump’s tax returns aren’t a big part of Democrats’ midterm campaigns, but they were a significant issue during the 2016 presidential election. House Democrats have repeatedly tried to get Congress to use its existing authority to obtain the returns, failing on more than a dozen votes since his inauguration.
The American people are entitled to know if their president is in a position to be compromised and the presidency compromised.
Democrats campaigning to retake the House emphasize tougher oversight of the administration, and as part of that, lawmakers see the tax returns as their window into the president’s finances.
They say the president’s tax returns are an essential part of exploring Mr. Trump’s ties to Russian interests, any tax-avoidance strategies he used and potential benefits from the 2017 tax law he signed.
His tax returns—and correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service during audits—would provide a detailed look at his finances, including the sources of income, business partners and charitable contributions. They wouldn’t necessarily provide the answers to every question Democrats have.
“The American people are entitled to know if their president is in a position to be compromised and the presidency compromised,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.), who has led the push with repeated requests and demands for votes.
Mr. Pascrell and other Democrats could use their authority to probe decades of Mr. Trump’s tax filings. Several lawmakers renewed their calls for the returns after the New York Times reported Tuesday on alleged estate and gift tax avoidance by Mr. Trump and his father. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed the report as an attack and said the IRS had “reviewed and signed off” on the transactions decades ago.
The administration has turned aside the Democrats’ requests and a legal battle is possible if the party takes control of either house of Congress. White House spokesman Raj Shah said, “The fact that their plans focus on attacking the president for political reasons rather than improving the lives of the American people says a lot about their priorities.”
Under the tax code, the Ways and Means chairman can demand and receive any taxpayer’s records from the IRS for confidential review. Mr. Neal wouldn’t need approval from the full House, the Senate or the administration. Prosecutors, including special counsel Robert Mueller, can also get tax returns from the IRS.
Mr. Trump said during his campaign that he would release his tax returns. But he hasn’t, citing what he says are unfair and ongoing IRS audits. The decision not to release his returns broke a 40-year tradition from major presidential candidates.
The Ways and Means Committee’s authority to obtain and make public an individual’s tax return “is a powerful oversight tool to be used not for political fishing expeditions,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), the current committee chairman. “Most people don’t care about the president’s tax returns. They care about their own.”
If he gets the returns, Mr. Neal said he plans to consult with his staff, Democratic leaders and House lawyers on how to analyze them and whether to make them public, which would require a committee vote.
He could release entire returns or redact some information to protect the privacy of other individuals or focus narrowly on potential violations.
“This has never happened before, so you want to be very meticulous,” Mr. Neal said.
Mr. Neal said one possibility—an echo of congressional inquiries into President Richard Nixon—is a study by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Mr. Wyden said Wednesday that Senate Democrats would decide what to do with the returns once they’ve reviewed them.
Write to Richard Rubin at email@example.com
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