Don't let the headline ("House Democrats prepare case to request Trump tax returns") fool you: Richard Neal's announcement of a plan to issue a request letter for Trump's tax returns comes distressingly late — and projects to be vastly too modest in scope.
Revolving Door Project, which has helped lead the way in spotlighting Neal's shirking the need for serious Congressional oversight, notes the following problems with the request as reported by NBC News.
1. WEAK: NBC says that "the committee is likely to focus on Trump’s personal returns versus his business filings" because they fear "the complex nature of the Trump Organization. According to his latest financial disclosure, the Trump Organization includes more than 500 different limited liability companies (LLCs) and shell companies that might take years to obtain and analyze."
No serious inquiry would exclude Trump's businesses — and if Ways and Means, Congress' tax law writing Committee, cannot analyze complex tax returns, they need to hire more staff. If Saudi Arabian, Chinese, or Russian money is flowing through LLCs controlled by Trump, the American people have a right to know about it.
2. LATE: The clock has already run two months on what was supposed to be the first act of the 116th Congress. While this request will be vindicated in the courts, what Trump wants is delay — and delaying the initiation of this fight by two months gifts Trump two months of unnecessary delay.
3. FURTHER DELAY: The request is not being made today, but "is expected to land at the Internal Revenue Service as early as the next few weeks" and need only be a few sentences long — there is no justification for extending the delay further until the spring.
4. NEEDLESSLY COMPLICATED: It makes sense that Neal has "contacted the chairs of several other House investigative committees, including Oversight and Government Reform, Financial Services, Intelligence and Judiciary," as the Trump tax returns contain information pivotal to those and many other committees. (e.g., Foreign Affairs). Yet while the need to demonstrate to a court a "legitimate legislative purpose" for the request is real, it only comes into play at the time of the effort to enforce the request in court -- which only happens after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (likely) breaks the law and denies the request. There is no reason to need for detailed letters at this time.
Indeed, while having several "legitimate legislative purposes" is nice, under Supreme Court doctrine it is quite clear that the House of Representatives will only need a single legitimate legislative purpose to justify their request. Beyond addressing issues raised by Michael Cohen's House OGR testimony, there are at least nine distinct legitimate legislative purposes, including:
(a) helping Congress assess the effectiveness of existing financial disclosure requirements for both presidential candidates and senior executive branch officials (including the president,
(b) Democrats’ “HR 1” includes a proposed requirement that candidates disclose their returns,
(c) Congress’ plenary impeachment power;
(d) Congress plenary powers :under the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and
(e) how the Trump Administration is administering the IRS and whether any of his odd decisions (e.g., Trump rejected more than six decades of precedent and installed a political appointee as his handpicked Acting IRS Commissioner (David Kautter) for more than 10 months; and
(f) Congressional determination of what actions are needed with respect to implementing or supplementing sanctions legislation and other laws relating to foreign affairs require understanding any foreign entanglements that might influence how Trump runs American foreign policy.
The Revolving Door Project continues to believe that Neal should make the request today and prepare to fight for it immediately -- and that he should then proceed on to vigorous oversight of how America does not effectively "Tax the Rich" due to our broken IRS. The rest of Revolving Door Project's proposed Ways and Means Committee Oversight Agenda is laid out here.