President Donald Trump clearly wanted to send a warning sign to House Democrats poised to investigate him and his Administration. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigations,” he said in Tuesday’s State of the Union.
But Democrats are moving right ahead. This week, investigations from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives started to pick up in earnest, and at the top of the list is the President’s finances.
On Thursday, the Ways and Means committee will hold its first hearing on the subject of Trump’s tax returns and the disclosure policies for Presidents, Vice Presidents and candidates for those offices. The hearing is largely expected to center on the provision in Democrats’ ethics reform bill, officially known as the “For the People Act,” which stipulates that all Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates must submit their tax returns from the past decade to the Federal Election Commission to publicize.
It’s no coincidence that Democrats wrote this provision into the bill. Trump was the first candidate in decades to refuse to release his tax returns — both business and personal — claiming he couldn’t do it because he was under audit. Now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, however, they have a path to obtaining them.
Under an obscure provision in the internal revenue code, the Ways and Means Committee (along with the Senate Finance Committee and Joint Committee on Taxation) has legal authority to request the President’s tax returns from Secretary Treasury Steven Mnuchin. The written request would have to come from Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, which he has not yet done. Although he is working on building a case for requesting the returns, according to a committee aide, he has come under fire from progressive groups, who have been arguing he is “dragging his feet ” on this issue by not submitting the request.
While Thursday’s hearing is broadly focused on the Democrats’ bill, it is expected “dance around” the issue of Trump’s tax returns, according to one Democratic aide – an effort to show that they are not, in fact, wavering but are trying to be judicious.
“Overwhelmingly, the public wants to the President’s tax returns,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. She acknowledged, however, the need to be careful and meticulous in the process.
This bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. But for the progressives who have been pushing Neal, this hearing is a victory, even if it is only the start of a long waiting game.
“It will shed light on the fact that obtaining a tax returns is really an oversight issue,” said Maura Quint, the Executive Director of Tax March, which held rallies across the country in 2017 calling on Trump to release his tax returns, and was among the progressive groups who sent a letter to Neal last month urging him to start the process. “Just bringing that to light would be a useful takeaway.”
More broadly speaking, Thursday’s hearing is just one piece of the way House Democrats are probing the President’s finances – an area where he has explicitly drawn a red line. On Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff released a list of his committee’s priorities. Second on the list was probing Trump’s business deals; more precisely, investigating “the extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, or related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.”
Schiff had long indicated Trump’s financial interests have been an area he wanted to probe. “The President has tried to draw a red line around his finances and his business and we see the peril of that already,” he told TIME last December. “The public as well as policy makers need to know if the President’s financial interests or threat of exposure is motivating this Russian policy.”
Trump, who recently preached unity at his State of the Union, was quick to disregard that rhetoric when it came to Schiff. “He’s just a political hack who’s trying to build a name for himself,” he said Wednesday. “It’s called presidential harassment.”
Those sentiments were on display in Thursday’s morning tweets. “The Dems and their committees are going “nuts,”’ he wrote.