US President Donald Trump, facing a congressional deadline for his administration to provide his tax returns, said on Wednesday that he “won’t do it” while he’s under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Trump told reporters at the White House in the United States that “I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit.” The IRS says there’s no rule stopping subjects of an audit from publicly releasing their tax filings.
Democrat Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has asked the IRS to turn over six years’ of the president’s tax returns by the end of the day. Trump has broken with decades of precedent by not voluntarily releasing his returns to the public.
Trump’s position has long been that he is under audit and therefore could not release his returns. But in recent weeks, he has added to the argument, saying publicly and privately that the American people elected him once without seeing his taxes and would do so again.
“Remember, I got elected last time – the same exact issue,” Trump said. “Frankly, the people don’t care.”
The president has told those close to him that the attempt to get his returns were an invasion of his privacy and a further example of the Democratic-led “witch-hunt” – like Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe – meant to damage him.
Trump has repeatedly asked aides about the status of the House request and has inquired about the “loyalty” of the top officials at the IRS, according to one external adviser who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who supervises the IRS, said on Tuesday that he’s not seeking direction from the White House on whether to comply. He said the department would likely respond by Neal’s deadline but didn’t say whether he would provide the returns as demanded.
Democrats don’t expect the department to comply, but they haven’t sketched out their next steps.
Neal’s initial letter sent a week ago, didn’t lay out any consequences for the IRS if it didn’t comply, and a spokesman said a likely course would be a second, more insistent, letter.
“We intend to follow through with this,” Neal said on Wednesday. “I’ll let you know fast.”
The request for Trump’s tax filings is but one of many oversight efforts launched by Democrats after taking back the House in last autumn’s midterm elections. Neal is relying on a 1920s-era law that says the IRS “shall furnish” any tax return requested by the chairmen of key House and Senate committees.
Mnuchin told politicians that his department would “follow the law” but hasn’t shared the department’s interpretation of the statute.
The White House did not respond to questions as to whether the president asked Mnuchin or the IRS head to intervene. The president’s outside lawyer also did not respond to a request for comment.
The head of the IRS faced questions from politicians for a second day on his response to Neal’s request.
“You are on the receiving end of a very aggressive political campaign by the Trump administration … It is your job, and your job alone, to respond to Chairman Neal’s request,” Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told Commissioner Charles Rettig.
Wyden cited the importance of the IRS being independent of political pressure.
“We’re working on a response with counsel and we will respond,” Rettig said.
Rettig had agreed with Democrats on Tuesday that it was primarily his decision to make, though he reports to Mnuchin. “You must be aware that we’re a bureau of Treasury, and Treasury supervises us,” he told Wyden.
Rettig said he hadn’t been instructed not to comply with the request by anyone acting on the White House’s behalf.
Rettig, who formerly was a Beverly Hills tax lawyer, was appointed by Trump and took the helm of the IRS last October. During the 2016 campaign, he defended Trump’s decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his tax filings. Under questioning at his confirmation hearing last August, Rettig pledged to uphold the political independence of the IRS.