Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley said he’s examining his authority to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, a move to ensure he could see any forms his Democratic counterpart in the House potentially receives.
Grassley said he’s planning to meet with nonpartisan congressional tax advisers to learn more about the process. Under a decades-old law, the heads of the tax-writing committees in the House and Senate can request the tax returns of any taxpayer, including the president, from the Treasury Department.
Still, the Iowa Republican cautioned that he hasn’t yet made a decision about whether he would ask Treasury to release the documents.
“Don’t interpret this as looking into it, but I’m going to have a briefing by Joint Tax on what all of this involves before I answer any questions,” Grassley told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Trump departed from roughly 40 years of tradition for presidential candidates by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign. The forms, or some of the information they contain, could effectively become public if the committees vote to release them. Democrats have said Trump should release his returns to disclose any potential foreign business dealings or conflicts with the tax overhaul he signed in 2017.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, has said he’s consulting his committee’s lawyers on the best way to use his authority to obtain Trump’s tax information. He’s said he’s “intent” on doing it, but hasn’t announced a timetable for submitting the request.
Last year, after regaining the majority in the November midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would be among the first things Democrats do in January. More recently, Pelosi has deferred to Neal on the process, who said he wants to be sure the request complies fully with the law.
Grassley said during a December floor speech that he wouldn’t engage in “political fishing expeditions” and wouldn’t go along with efforts to “weaponize the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes.”
The process could turn into a protracted legal battle if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decides to delay sending the tax documents to Congress. Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has also said Democrats could face difficulties making the case that the request is for oversight purposes, rather than being politically motivated.