House Democrats take first step to access Trump tax returns

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The academic panel and narrow scope of the hearing before the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight were far from the explosive investigation into Trump's finance that some progressive Democrats have demanded.

"There's nothing to learn from them", Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press in May 2016.

The call for Trump to make public his tax returns dates back to the early days of the 2016 presidential contest, when he initially signaled he'd gather the volumes of documents that composed his returns and make them available for public inspection.

The last candidate to capture more than 10 percent of the vote who didn't disclose his tax returns was independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, according to a Congressional Research Service report. They're the only ones.

"I would expect the President to use every legal means he can to keep that from happening. No, I don't think [the American people] care at all".

Five witnesses are expected to testify: Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project, an initiative from Tax Analysts; George K. Yin, the Edwin S. Cohen Distinguished Professor of Law and Taxation at the University of Virginia School of Law; Noah Bookbinder, executive director at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Steven M. Rosenthal, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center; and Ken Kies, managing director of the Federal Policy Group. Due to the president's conflicts of interest through his various businesses and properties, which he still owns, Democrats have said his tax returns could shine light on possible ethical and legal wrongdoing. In other words, we will ask the question: "Does the public need to know that a person holding the highest office in our country obeys the tax laws?"

"We look forward to using this hearing to discuss the critical importance of full tax disclosure for any man or woman seeking the presidency", they said in a recent statement. It's part of House Democrats' comprehensive election and ethics reform package - their first major bill for the new Congress this year.

As written, the total reform package would nearly certainly be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate and vetoed by the president.

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Yin spoke to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, saying that while the tax code bars revealing those returns without the filer's permission, the tax returns can be shared with Congress.

The new Democratic-controlled House is looking at proposals to compel presidents and presidential candidates to make public years of their tax returns. The panel can ask the Treasury to turn over the records of any taxpayer, but the Cabinet-level department could delay or reject the request.

"We do want to be respectful and give a little bit of time for committees to get going but obviously this is a top issue and a top issue for a lot of Democrats who just won election", Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said, according to the Washington Examiner. On Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff released a list of his committee's priorities.

"It's not a question of just sending a letter", Pelosi said.

Republicans tried to steer the debate towards whether the raw returns themselves will be disclosed to the public - an unlikely eventuality that is separate from what is likely to be the committee's request. "And the chairman of the committee (Neal) will be doing that", the Democrats' leader said. "I know that there's impatience because people want to know, but we have to do it in a very careful way".

Thursday's House Ways and Means hearing into Trump's taxes would break what he declared in 2017 as a red line - that investigations should not touch his business and finances. "Such an abuse of power would open a Pandora's box".

"Weaponizing the tax code for political purposes sets a unsafe precedent", Brady, R-Texas, told reporters on Wednesday.

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