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Democrats Begin The Fight For Trump's Taxes


This week, Representative Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, officially requested six years of Donald Trump's tax returns. The request was months in the making. Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear - as she banged the podium at a press conference this week - Democrats do not intend to back down.


NANCY PELOSI: Let's rise to a level of presidential in all of this. Show us the Mueller report. Show us the tax returns. And we're not walking away just because you say no the first time around.

SIMON: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Tax returns are typically private - right? - confidential between a filer and the IRS. Let's also note President Trump is one of the few candidates for president in recent years who hasn't voluntarily released his returns. How are Democrats making this request?

SNELL: Well, first, we should say that the IRS automatically audits the tax returns of any president. But this is a request going back to 2013. Democrats want to see what his tax returns look like before he was president. Now, they're using a special authority that tax-writing committees have. It's called Section 6103. Now, that's the very technical way of saying that they are demanding the president's tax returns. They are not requesting them. And typically, the committee keeps the returns private. But, actually, there's new research out from the big research arm of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, that says they don't have to keep it confidential. They can release the information to all of Congress. And then from there, we would expect many, many members - many Democrats - would want to make that public.

SIMON: Any reason to believe the president's going to comply now?

SNELL: No, not at all. He says he can't release his taxes because he's being audited. That's what he said during the campaign as well. And he was asked about this at the White House twice this week. First, he said he wasn't inclined to comply, and then he was even more clear on Friday when he was walking into Marine One to leave for a tour of the border.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm under audit, but that's up to whoever it is. From what I understand, the law is 100 percent on my side.

SNELL: One hundred percent on his side - that doesn't necessarily seem to be true. Witnesses testified earlier this year that there's not a lot of wiggle room when the committee uses this authority to make a request. And on Friday, President Trump's personal lawyer said that this request flouts constitutional constraints. So they're basically arguing that Congress doesn't have the right to even be asking.

SIMON: And the reaction from Republicans in Congress.

SNELL: Well, they are so far siding with the president. They're calling it a massive overreach. Now, the Republicans in the House and the Senate agree on this point. And Senator Chuck Grassley, who oversees taxes over in the Senate as the Senate Finance Committee chairman, railed against Democrats on the Senate floor and called it a political attack.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: It's motivated by their desire to use all of the resources at their disposal to find something, anything, to bring this president down.

SNELL: But so far, it doesn't seem like there's a lot Republicans can do to stop it. This is very likely to become a legal fight. We expect to have the president's lawyers involved. We hear that they want to continue to fight this. And they'll have to find a way to argue that there is no legislative reason to be asking for the president's tax returns. So that's probably the first front in what could be a very, very, very long fight over whether or not the returns become public at all.

SIMON: One of the reasons candidates for president got into the habit of releasing their tax returns is it was felt the American people had a right to know if the policies they espoused had any relation to personal financial gain. There are a lot of questions about that in this administration, aren't there?

SNELL: Yeah. And that's part of what Democrats are arguing here is that they not only have legislative reasons wanting to understand how they can legislate to ensure that people are protected in the country, but they also have an oversight responsibility. And they say that knowing how the president may be profiting from his businesses or other interactions from his presidency - that's something that they say is really important to disclose, something that they can't look at without his tax returns.

SIMON: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much for being with us.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.