The fight over access to President Trump’s tax returns got a little more complicated last week when the House Ways and Means Committee issued a subpoena for the information.

Democrats invoked section 6103 of the IRS code, a statute dating back to 1924, which authorizes the Ways and Means Committee to request from the Treasury Department the tax returns of any business or taxpayer.  It provides no basis for the Treasury to refuse a request.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rejected the subpoena, arguing that he is “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information” for a request that “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

 This appears to conflict with information provided previously by the IRS.  According to a confidential memo from the Internal Revenue Service written last fall, tax returns must be surrendered to Congress unless the president opts to invoke executive privilege.

The memo states that turning over the documents is mandatory, regardless of the professed reason for the request.

The IRS says the memo was drafted by their Office of Chief Counsel.

President Trump has repeatedly refused to hand over his tax returns.

The controversy surrounding Trump’s tax returns dates back to the early days of his candidacy.  Trump initially asserted that he could not release the Federal returns because of an IRS audit.  Almost immediately the IRS contradicted his claim and announced there is no IRS prohibition of disclosure of returns during an audit.

Trump actually said he would release his returns once he got the nomination or after the audit was completed.

But that hasn’t happened yet and some people are wondering why.

Presidents have been disclosing their tax returns for decades.

Richard Nixon used the “under IRS audit” excuse also and did not initially turn over his returns voluntarily.  They were later leaked by someone in the IRS.  They revealed he had paid very little in taxes.  This led to his infamous, “I am not a crook” statement.

After their release, he was charged more than $400,000 in back taxes.

The practice of releasing tax returns has been standard since Nixon.

Gerald Ford simply provided a summary of his taxes.

 Some candidates have just turned over a couple of years’ worth of documents while others have provided returns for many years.  But none have stonewalled like Trump.

The Clintons had to hand over money to the IRS because of under reporting on the Whitewater deal after releasing their returns.

FDR didn’t release his returns but his presidential library did after his death and they showed that even though he criticized other Americans for trying to get out of paying taxes, FDR make a habit of minimizing his own.

George H.W. Bush’s returns showed he gave nearly 62 percent of his income away to charity.

There has been much speculation about why Trump doesn’t want to provide his tax returns.

Some of the alleged reasons for his reluctance include that his returns show he is not as rich as he claims.  Others speculate he could have lied about how much he gives to charity. Another surmised the returns could show Trump pays little or no taxes on huge incomes.  The conspiracy theorists claim the returns will show he owes money to overseas banks or even Russia.

The National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy has urged Congress to standardize and codify the practice of sitting presidents, vice presidents, and candidates for those offices disclosing their tax returns.  The task force recommends that all candidates for president and vice president disclose three years of their personal returns.

Their recommendation is based on history.  Presidents have also voluntarily committed themselves to following conflict-of-interest laws.  This means presidents have typically divested any business interests.   That long-standing practice has helped assure the American public that their presidents were acting in the public’s best interest and not seeking simply to enrich themselves.

Several candidates who have announced 2020 campaigns are already releasing financial information and more years of tax returns than the task force recommends.

According to a recent New York Times article Trump only paid income tax for two years between 1985 and 1995 and showed more loss than any other individual American taxpayer.

 There is no legal reason for Mr. Trump not to release the returns.  It’s not like he is hiding anything from the IRS because they already have the information.

Subsequently, we can only speculate the reason he doesn’t is because there is something he doesn’t want everyone else to see.

Releasing his tax returns makes good sense.  It gives voters a little bit of confidence he is a reasonably, financially law-abiding citizen.

It would also confirm to the public that he is paying his fair share and following the same rules that apply to everyone else.

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