Grassley on Requests for the President’s Tax Returns
Prepared Floor Statement by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
On Requests for the President’s Tax Returns
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Yesterday, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the IRS requesting the President’s tax returns.
Last night, I had a chance to read that letter.
And I have to say that if you take it at face value, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Consider the reasons that are stated in that letter for requesting the President’s tax returns.
It states that the Committee is conducting oversight of the audit process that the IRS uses to evaluate presidential tax returns.
Currently, the IRS examines the president’s tax returns as a matter of policy, but a review isn’t required by law.
Democrat Members of the Ways and Means Committee have said they’re now looking into whether the current IRS policy of auditing the President is enough or if Congressional action may be needed.
Democrats have even been talking about making IRS audits of the President mandatory every year, even though the IRS does that every year already.
In a press release, a Democrat Member of the Ways and Means Committee said he has a duty to examine whether Congressional action is needed to require Presidential audits and to oversee that they are done correctly.
Ask yourself – why?
I, for one, haven’t seen any evidence that the IRS has suddenly changed its policy under this president – that it’s conducting a less thorough review of President Trump’s taxes than it did of previous presidents, or that it hasn’t conducted a review at all.
So why are Democrats considering these changes to the tax code now?
Why didn’t they raise the issue under President Obama, or President Bush, or President Clinton?
The answer is, nothing has changed.
There’s no reason to believe the IRS is doing any less due diligence in its review of President Trump’s taxes than it has for any other president in recent memory.
The letter also states that the Committee needs to know the scope of the audit that the IRS conducts when it looks at a President’s tax returns – that it needs to know whether there is a review of underlying business activities reported by the President.
If Democrats are truly interested in finding out the level of scrutiny given to a president’s tax returns, why not just ask the IRS to describe its audit procedure?
That’s a straightforward question, and I’m sure Commissioner Rettig would be happy to oblige with a straightforward answer.
Why is there a need to see President Trump’s tax returns in order to get an answer to those questions?
I’ll give you a hint. There isn’t one.
The letter also states that the Committee is looking into how the IRS is doing in its job of enforcing tax laws in a fair and impartial manner.
In a statement yesterday, Ways and Means Committee Democrats said they especially wants to know whether or not audits of presidential tax returns are being conducted fully and appropriately.
Along those lines, in addition to asking for President Trump’s tax returns, and those of his businesses for the last six years, the Democrats have asked for information on the status of all audits of those tax returns that have been conducted.
It sounds like they’re planning to conduct their own review of the President’s tax returns to see whether or not the IRS has been doing its job.
There’s a problem with that.
The IRS audits more than a million tax returns every year. And while audits of the President and Vice President might happen automatically, the audit process that is followed for them ought to be the same as it is for everyone else.
Every member of Ways and Means knows it, too. In member remarks yesterday, they said the Committee has a responsibility to conduct oversight of the tax system to determine how Americans – including those elected to high office – are complying with the law.
In other words, the President and the Vice President ought to be held to the same high standard as every other American. Not a different standard. The same standard.
And there is no reason to believe that isn’t happening.
Democrats haven’t offered a shred of evidence to suggest that the IRS hasn’t done its job auditing President Trump’s taxes or anybody else’s for that matter.
And by the way, if Democrats are really so concerned about enforcement, then why not ask the Treasury Inspector General to conduct a review of the IRS audit process?
I’ll tell you why.
Because they’re not concerned about oversight of the IRS enforcement process at all.
What they are interested in is using their oversight authority to collect as much information about this President’s finances as they can get their hands on.
And that really is the bottom line, isn’t it?
This letter from the House Democrats doesn’t make sense when taken at face value because you can’t take it at face value.
Democrats say they’re interested in the tax returns of all presidents when they’re really just interested in one– President Trump.
If the effort to get the President’s tax returns isn’t part of a grand reform effort, as they’d have us believe, then what is it motivated by?
I’ll tell you.
It’s motivated by Democrats’ intense dislike for this President.
It’s motivated by their frustration over losing an election that they thought they’d easily win.
It’s motivated by their desire to use all of the resources at their disposal to find something– anything– to bring this President down.
Just take a look at how this whole effort to request the President’s tax returns has unfolded.
Democrats started making calls for President Trump to release his tax returns while he was still a candidate during the 2016 election.
At the time, Democratic calls for the release of his tax returns were clearly just a political attack– not a policy issue as they’d now have us believe.
Secretary Clinton said: “there must be something really terrible in those tax returns.”
Her communications director used the issue to chide then-candidate Trump for “hiding behind fake excuses and backtracking on…previous promises.”
In his speech before the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Clinton’s running mate questioned whether then-candidate Trump had been paying his fair share, at once calling on him to release his tax returns and asking, “Donald, what are you hiding?”
Since the election, these calls have continued. Democrats have just come up with more inventive excuses for making them, although I suspect the underlying political reasons are the same today as they were in 2016.
Consider how those reasons have changed over time.
Not long after the election, at the beginning of the last congress, ninety-three House Democrats signed a resolution of inquiry directing the Secretary of the Treasury to turn over the President’s tax returns.
That request was for his tax returns to be provided to the full House of Representatives and not the Committee on Ways and Means.
The House Democrat portion of that resolution’s Committee report, signed by the Ranking Member and current Chairman, is filled with complaints about the President’s refusal to release his tax returns, none of which ever mention reviewing IRS audit procedures.
In that report, Democrats say that the President has “rebuked over 40 years of tradition” by refusing to release his tax returns.
They say the President’s tax returns should be released because he has a vast domestic and international business empire.
They say they should be released because he is “not the average American.”
They say they should be released because he is President of the United States and has the power to sign bills into law.
And that is supposed to serve as some kind of justification for demanding and releasing his tax returns.
Well, the law doesn’t support that argument. Under section 6103 of the federal tax code, the tax returns of all Americans, including the President of the United States, are considered to be private information.
And without an individual’s permission, tax information can’t be released except under the most limited of circumstances.
Let’s not forget that our tax code reads that way for a reason.
When Congress reformed the modern IRS privacy law, it was 1976– not long after President Nixon left office.
Nixon had used his power over the IRS to target his political enemies, and Congress wanted to make sure this never happened again. Congress was determined to put protections in place that would prevent that kind of abuse of power in the future.
Congress wanted to ensure private tax information would never be used for political purposes again.
But if you strip away all of the pretense and trace this current effort back to its roots, that sounds an awful lot like what’s happening now.
I stopped listing them, but Democrats have had plenty of other reasons in the past for claiming to need President Trump’s tax returns.
In 2017, Democrats also said the President’s taxes should be released because he stood to benefit from the tax reform that Congress passed, and the President then signed into law.
Apparently, because the President is wealthy and successful, they figured he must have had a self-interest in supporting tax reform.
A more recent effort to get the President’s returns is contained in a bill the House Democrats recently sent to the Senate, known as H.R. 1.
That bill contains a provision requiring that candidates for President and Vice President, as well as the sitting President and Vice President, release their last ten years of individual tax returns.
Assuming the proposal lives on, even if the bill doesn’t, I wonder if that’s one of the items they are hoping to evaluate through their current oversight efforts.
Maybe they want to see the President’s tax returns in order to evaluate their proposal to see the President’s tax returns.
That sounds like a lot of circular logic to me.
Democrats have also made a big deal out of the fact that under section 6103, the Secretary of the Treasury “shall” turn over relevant tax records to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee if he requests them.
That’s exactly right. As long as the Committee has a legitimate legislative purpose in asking for them. For decades, the courts have been clear that Congressional requests for information like this must have a legitimate legislative purpose.
But that’s where the Democrats come up short.
See, they don’t have a purpose. All they have are a lot of excuses.
And let me tell you, introducing legislation that would essentially require the President to release his tax returns, and then using that to somehow justify requesting the President’s tax returns is one of the worst excuses I’ve ever heard.
You’d think considering the amount of time and practice they’ve had trying to rationalize all of this and make it sound good, they’d be able to come up with something a little bit better than that.
Apparently not. And that really speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
The fact is, the reasons the Democrats have offered for wanting President Trump’s tax returns back in 2016 and 2017 don’t pass muster any better than the ones they are trying to peddle now.
That’s because they’re not requesting the tax returns in order to investigate a problem in need of oversight at all. All they really care about is finding a pretext to bring this President down.
You know, as a member of Congress who knows firsthand the importance of good oversight, that’s what concerns me the most about all of this.
I know a thing or two about oversight. Over my career, I’ve conducted oversight of the last seven presidential administrations, Democrat and Republican.
I’ve called out both parties for doing things that they shouldn’t be doing.
In that spirit, I’ve always said that every single member of Congress is duty-bound to conduct oversight of the federal government.
The responsibility to conduct oversight is and ought to be regarded by each and every one of us as sacrosanct. The power to conduct oversight flows directly from the Constitution.
As members of Congress, we owe it to the people we represent to preserve and protect its use as a tool for carrying out our legitimate constitutional responsibilities.
I don’t believe for a minute that when the Framers created Article I, what they had in mind was members using those powers to collect personal information on their political opponents in an effort to destroy them.
You know, in all my years of conducting oversight, I have never started with an end result and then worked backward in search of a reason for making it happen. That’s not how oversight is done.
Oversight is about advocating for transparency and accountability in order to fix problems and improve government, not about searching for ways to sow division and tear down your political opponents.
What the Democrats are doing now looks a lot more like the latter than the former, and if that is what they’re up to, it’s not oversight at all.
When you strip out all their pretexts, and when you strip out their circular logic, all you have are Democrats who want to go after the President any way they can. They dislike him with a passion, and they want his tax returns to destroy him. That’s all this is about, and it’s Nixonian to the core.
I yield the floor.