Teapot Dome legislation


The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, using a little-known provision in the federal tax code, formally requested on Wednesday that the I.R.S. hand over six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, starting what is likely to be a momentous fight with his administration.

Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, hand-delivered a two-page letter laying out the request to Charles P. Rettig, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, ending months of speculation about when he would do so and almost certainly prompting a legal challenge from the Trump administration.

Reporters asked Trump about it during the few minutes he spent in the office and he said he’d love to but he’s being audited that day.

“I guess when you have a name, you are audited, but until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he said.

Being audited of course has nothing to do with it. It’s been his excuse all along, and it’s worthless. (Also it’s probably not true.)

Mr. Neal is not relying on a subpoena or standard congressional processes. Instead, he is invoking an authority enshrined in the tax code granted only to the tax-writing committees in Congress that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee the power to request tax information on any filer.

Mr. Neal gave the agency until April 10 to comply with the request, and if he receives the information, he will then confidentially review it with his committee staff.

The provision, which dates in some form to the Teapot Dome scandal of Warren G. Harding’s administration, at least on its face gives the Trump administration little room to decline a request like Mr. Neal’s. It only says that the Treasury secretary “shall” furnish the information.

Almost as if the president isn’t supposed to be an absolute ruler.

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