House Democrats are carefully laying the groundwork to obtain President Donald Trump's personal tax returns in the new Congress, hoping to build public support for their effort as they prepare to confront a defiant President.
Incoming House Ways and Means Committee Chairmen Richard Neal, the only Democrat who has the power in Congress to obtain Trump's taxes, had hoped Trump would hand them over willingly, but a source familiar with ongoing discussions says public comments from the President's allies have made it clear that asking nicely would be a "waste of time" and that likely the most efficient way for Neal to ask for the returns is to do it formally. In that case, Neal would ask the Treasury Department for the returns in the new Congress. When that would actually take place is still under discussion.
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Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has signaled he thinks Trump should defy a Democratic request for his taxes.
"They have to have a reason for wanting them and I fail to see a reason. They can't just look at them. It has to be linked to some wrongdoing," Giuliani told CNN on Tuesday.
"We will fight it in court and I think we would win unless they had some specific allegation."
The strategy to obtain the tax returns, however, isn't just about Trump. Democrats believe they are on solid legal footing, but they also argue that Trump has defied precedent as the only modern-day President not to divulge his tax records.
They want to make the case to the public that in order to understand a candidate's interests, they have to see their tax returns. A source familiar with discussions told CNN that the House Ways and Means Committee plans to hold a hearing likely in January on a provision in Democrats' first major piece of legislation, HR 1, that would mandate presidential nominees release three years of their tax returns.
Neal, a business-minded Democrat who has waited years for the gavel on Ways and Means, finds himself in a unique position. While Neal has expressed interest in working with the President on proposals like infrastructure, the congressman under IRS code is the only Democrat on Capitol Hill who can legally obtain Trump's tax returns, a politically fraught move that could easily consume the committee if Neal isn't strategic.
"(Neal) can do it by simply asking for it, but he's not going to do it until we have all of our eggs in order. We gotta make sure we all agree that we don't do this with a knee jerk," said Rep. BIll Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey. "We're not doing this by a knee jerk. We've got research up the gazoo behind us and the law's on our side."
Democrats are working hard to ensure that the committee isn't overshadowed by Trump's taxes. The source familiar with planning has signaled that Neal wants to spend time cracking down on the ways the Trump administration has weakened the Affordable Care Act at the Department of Health and Human Services and the committee is set to take time to examine just who benefited from the GOP's tax bill. The House Ways and Means Committee hired Andrew Grossman, the former counsel at the Joint Committee on Taxation to be their Chief Tax Counsel, a move aimed to help the committee better scrutinize the GOP tax bill.