A president of the Democratic House on Saturday condemned the Treasury Department for failing to meet its deadline for submitting President Trump's tax returns, saying that the apparent concerns of the administration regarding its use of the powers described in the code of Internal Revenue Service taxes "were unfounded".
The president, the Democratic representative of Massachusetts, Richard E. Neal, set a new compliance deadline, April 23, and warned that if the Trump government does not respond by then, its "failure would be interpreted as a refusal of my request ".
The tone of Mr. Neal's letter suggested that the Democrats were ready to apply to a court if necessary, under a little-known provision of the federal tax code, by starting what could be a long legal battle against the congressional control powers. He cites a legal precedent which, he says, clearly shows that the law is on the side of the committee and indicates that the executive power does not have the right to "doubt its motives".
[[[[Lily the letter right here.]
"I know there have been concerns about my request and the authority of the committee," Neal wrote. "These concerns lack merit. In addition, judicial precedents direct that none of the concerns raised may legitimately be used to reject the committee's request. "
Anticipating an increasingly likely legal battle over the ways and means action, House Democrats were also taking steps to open a side door to Trump's finances. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and Chairman of the House Monitoring and Reform Committee, informed Republicans Friday of his intention to issue a subpoena in the coming days to coerce Mazars USA, a company accountant related to the chairman, to the relevant financial documents in his possession.
Republicans hesitated over this demand, calling it an astonishing abuse of the committee's powers. But Mr Cummings said he had the power to investigate Mr Trump's potential wrongdoings and the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, his long-time adviser, that the President had intentionally presented inaccurately its assets and liabilities to meet its needs.
"The Committee has full authority to inquire as to whether the President may have engaged in unlawful conduct before and during his tenure to determine whether he has undisclosed conflicts of interest that could compromise his ability to take impartial political decisions, to determine whether he is in a state of political conflict. to respect the emoluments provisions of the Constitution and to check whether they have properly reported their finances to the Office of Ethics and other federal entities, "Cummings wrote, citing the extent of his own investigation.
Mr. Trump himself made it clear that he did not intend to give up his many years of objection to filing his tax return, and his personal solicitor urged the Treasury Department, which includes Ireland, to combat Mr Neal's request.
On Wednesday, just before Neal's compliance deadline, the Treasury Department said it took longer to assess the legality of the request but cast doubt on his claims that his legislative objective was legitimate. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, wrote that he was consulting the Department of Justice to write an answer, but did not say how long it would take.
"The committee's request raises serious issues regarding the authority of the constitutional inquiry, the legitimacy of the claimed legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of US citizens," wrote Mnuchin. "The legal implications of this claim could affect the protection of all Americans against the disclosure of tax information for political reasons, regardless of which party is in power."
This month, Mr. Neal has formally requested six years of personal and corporate tax returns from Mr. Trump, ending months of speculation about when New Democrats would apply and how they would justify it.
Mr. Trump challenged modern political standards and refused to publish his tax returns, either as a candidate or as president. He has repeatedly stated, including last Wednesday, that he was subject to an audit by the I.R.S. and therefore can not make documents public as all other presidential candidates have been doing for decades.
But no law prevents a taxpayer from filing returns when it is subject to audit, and the I.R.S. automatically verifies the reports of all presidents and vice-presidents during their term.
Mr. Neal says it is a committee inquiry into this mandatory presidential audit policy that requires the return of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Neal relies on a little-known provision of the federal tax code, Chapter 6103, which dates from the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s and gives the chairs of the editorial boards congressional statements of unique powers to request information. tax refunds on any declarant. The code itself leaves the executive branch little leeway to respond, indicating only that the Treasury Secretary "must" provide the information upon request.
Lawyers who have studied Neal's disposition and request believe that if the Treasury Department objects, he will argue that the president of Ways and Means has overridden the congressional supervisory authority by presenting a request that has no legitimate legislative purpose and is only intended to: achieve a political purpose. A resulting legal battle could ultimately lead to the Supreme Court and have a significant impact on the extension of the Congressional investigative powers.
Republicans of Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump's associates at the White House and his personal attorney, William S. Consovoy, all claimed that the Democrats only wanted to embarrass the president politically and urged the I.R.S. and the Treasury Department to dismiss their claim as illegitimate.
Saturday's Neal letter repressed some of their objections. Notably, it was not addressed to Mr. Mnuchin, but to Charles P. Rettig, of the I.R.S. Commissioner, who according to the Democrats should make the decision himself.
Mr. Neal argued that the law in question made it clear that Mr. Rettig had to transmit the information. But he added that the administration did not have the power to ask how the committee would deal with the information or the validity of its legislative purpose.
"There is no valid basis for questioning the legitimacy of the committee's legislative purpose here," wrote Neal, citing a 1957 Supreme Court decision, Watkins v. United States, according to which the investigative powers of the Congress were "extended" and "encompass investigations concerning the application of existing laws as well as laws proposed or possibly necessary. "
But lawyers say that the administration might seek to invoke the same 1957 judgment against the committee, because it also argues that even if the investigative powers of the Congress are "extended", they are also not "unlimited" .