Trump hit with ‘accidental’ 1-day investigative assault – POLITICO
In a single day, House Democrats demanded President Donald Trump’s tax returns for six years, moved to get a decade’s worth of his financial records and prepared to issue a subpoena for the full Mueller report from the Justice Department.
Top House Democratic lawmakers and aides say the triple-headed attack was more by accident than design, but it’s also clear that April 3 marks a turning point for the new Democratic majority. In less than eight hours, House Democrats moved to an all-out investigative assault on Trump, one that the White House and Republican leaders blasted as unnecessary, openly partisan and a huge distraction from the country’s business.
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House Democrats, though, see investigating Trump — even if special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t find clear-cut evidence of illegal behavior or collusion in his Russia inquiry — as their overriding duty.
Trump was immediately dismissive of the request by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to the IRS for six years of his personal and business tax returns. Trump fell back on the argument that he was still under audit, yet also signaled that he wasn’t in any mood to comply with the Democratic demand.
“Is that all? We are under audit, despite what people said, and working that out,” Trump told reporters. “I’m always under audit, it seems, but I’ve been under audit for many years because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name, you’re audited. But until such time as I’m not under audit, I would not be inclined to do it.” Under IRS policy, sitting presidents and vice presidents are audited.
But Neal said the request was well within his committee’s rights, and he urged the IRS to comply by an April 10 deadline.
“I today submitted to IRS Commissioner [Charles] Rettig my request for six years of the president’s personal tax returns as well as the returns for some of his business entities,” Neal said in a statement. “We have completed the necessary groundwork for a request of this magnitude and I am certain we are within our legitimate legislative, legal, and oversight rights.”
Neal added: “I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect. This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration.”
Some of the most hardline Democrats on Ways and Means were overjoyed by Neal’s move, saying Trump’s tax returns should have been released months or even years earlier, as other presidents had done.
“Americans have a right to know if their president is compromised or corrupt,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “For much of his adult life, Trump has used his power to shield himself from scrutiny or accountability. Subjecting his tax records to sunlight can finally hold him to both.”
Pascrell insisted that Democrats were “prepared legally and morally.”
“If they want a fight,” he said, “they’ll get a fight.”
House and Senate Republicans strongly objected to Neal’s move, calling it an attempt to “weaponize” Congress’ tax panels.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) slammed “political fishing expeditions” and said he wouldn’t support Neal’s request. Like the Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance can request any individual‘s tax returns.
“I think a person like me that’s had an equal opportunity approach to oversight, treating Republican administrations the same as Democratic administrations, speaks for itself,” Grassley said in a statement. “So, I will not go along with efforts to weaponize the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes. Such an action would be unprecedented.”
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on Ways and Means, was even more blunt in his objections: “This particular request is an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority, and violates the intent and safeguards of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code as Congress intended.”
Neal’s IRS letter came just hours after Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Trump’s accounting firm asked the panel to issue a subpoena before sending lawmakers 10 years of his financial records. Cummings said the firm intended to turn over the documents once it got the subpoena, a move that he promised would happen quickly.
“They have told us that they will provide the information pretty much when they have a subpoena,” Cummings said. “And we’ll get them a subpoena.”
Cummings had formally requested the documents in a March letter that referenced aspects of earlier testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, before the Oversight Committee. Cummings had asked the firm to turn over the information by Wednesday.
The Maryland Democrat’s comments came shortly after the Judiciary Committee green-lighted a subpoena for the full Mueller report, a move that is also likely to trigger a legal confrontation between the White House and Congress, but one that Democrats insist is necessary.
“We must make it harder for future presidents to behave this way,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said as his panel voted to give him the power to subpoena the full report. “We need a full accounting of the president’s actions to do that work.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member on Judiciary, rejected the Democratic move as pure political grandstanding.
“Without facts on their side, Democrats have put all their hope in optics,” Collins said.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the trifecta of Democratic oversight moves on Wednesday was purely coincidental.
“It was simply a matter of the work that the chairman has been doing being completed,” Kildee said of Neal. “There was no real timing to any of this, it’s not like something was coordinated.” He added that the Democratic-led panel had spent months painstakingly crafting a legal argument that members feel confident could win in court, with extensive research and frequent consultations with the House counsel.
“The fact that we’re doing them is significant,” a senior Democratic aide added. “But the fact that we’re doing them on the same day is not. It is just accidental that it happened that way.”
House Democrats are also using their powers to go after Trump on policy. Earlier Wednesday, the House voted to formally condemn the White House’s legal efforts to dismantle Obamacare, forcing eight Republicans to go on the record opposing their own president.
Democratic leaders will also force members in the coming days to go on the record condemning Trump’s threats to close down the U.S.-Mexico border, presenting another unified front against the White House.
But it is on oversight of Trump that Democrats will get headlines, and it’s the area where their base has urged them to move aggressively.
“All three committees and the chairs made it abundantly clear they were looking for voluntary cooperation in response to their requests for information or testimony,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence and Oversight committees.
“It’s a sign that there’s oversight finally in this place,” Krishnamoorthi added. “We were elected in the majority in part to act as a check and balance in addition to getting things done. … I’m not surprised about what happened today.”
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.