A 1924 law allows House Democrats to bypass the subpoena process and directly sue the Treasury Department for Trump’s tax returns.
In requesting Trump’s tax returns, Neal is relying on a 1924 law (now found in 26 USC 6103(f)(1)), passed in the wake of scandals such as Teapot Dome, that explicitly authorizes the House Ways and Means Committee chair to obtain any taxpayer’s tax return information simply by asking for it in writing. The law is clear and direct, stating that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” any information requested. The plain language places no condition on Neal’s action, says nothing about the need for any specific purpose or justification, and doesn’t enumerate any circumstances under which Mnuchin might decline to comply.
So, if Congress wants to get those returns, its next move should be to sue Mnuchin based on his failure to comply with the 1924 law, rather than to seek the information through a subpoena. At worst, a court will require Neal to have a legitimate legislative purpose—the same condition that applies to enforce a subpoena. But a court might well decide, based on the language and history of the 1924 law, that no purpose is needed at all. Congress has a strong case. A suit on the law will be a good test to determine whether Trump has captured the judiciary, as he apparently believes.
Unlike the fight that is currently going on between the administration and House Judiciary Democrats over the full Mueller report and underlying evidence, there is a much simpler path to Trump’s tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump have been acting as if the law is optional. It is not. Democrats made a clear request with a legitimate purpose for Trump’s tax returns. The administration does not get to ignore that request.
Trump is also not entitled to privacy, and releasing his tax returns will not raise a privacy concern that will impact private citizens because Democrats are examining the process for auditing presidential tax returns.
Democrats should cut through the obstruction and the noise by suing the Treasury Department. The deadline to turn over Trump’s tax returns is Monday. If Treasury fails to comply, the next step should a lawsuit, not a subpoena.
For more discussion about this story join our Rachel Maddow and MSNBC group.