Democrats aren't giving up on Trump's tax returns

Town halls demand Trump's tax returns
Town halls demand Trump's tax returns

Leading Republicans in Congress are not yielding to pressure to review President Trump's tax returns for potential conflicts of interest.

But Democrats making the push aren't letting them off the hook easily. They want them to go on the record with their refusals, repeatedly.

"It's going to be embarrassing when those tax returns come out. They're coming out sooner or later. ...Then we'll see how many people voted time and time and time again to deep six ... the request," said Representative Bill Pascrell on Wednesday before the Ways and Means Committee.

Just prior to Pascrell's comments, the Committee had voted down an amendment from another Democratic member -- Representative Lloyd Doggett -- which would have required Committee Chairman Kevin Brady to request the president's tax returns from Treasury before the Obamacare repeal bill could take effect.

Meanwhile, in the Senate on Tuesday, Senators Ron Wyden and Debbie Stabenow sent their second letter in a week to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, again urging him to obtain and review Trump's tax returns.

In response to the senators' first letter, Hatch and Brady last week rejected their request and called their suggested approach "an abuse of the tax-writing committees' statutory authority."

Hatch has not issued a response to the second letter. His spokesman told CNNMoney that Hatch and Brady "have already said they will not use [that] authority."

Related: Republicans face tough questions about Trump's tax returns at town halls

Democrats are pointing to a section of tax law that authorizes the tax committee chairmen to confidentially review anyone's return -- including the president's -- without that person's consent if they have cause for concern pertaining to the committee's areas of oversight.

In this case, Democrats say the concerns include national security, which they believe may be put at risk by Trump's vast international business ties, from which he has not fully divested. They also are seeking more information to clarify whether Trump is violating the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal office holders from accepting any "present, emolument, office or title" from a foreign state.

But Hatch and Brady argue the power to obtain tax returns has only been used to investigate specific allegations of misconduct by federal officials.

"To date, we have not seen or received any specific allegations of tax-related misconduct by federal officials or abuses of taxpayer rights that would lead us to invoke it at this time," they wrote last week.

Wyden and Stabenow pushed back against that assertion in their second letter, citing instances in the 2000s when the top two lawmakers on Senate Finance at that time -- Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Charles Grassley -- used their authority to obtain tax information in cases related to oil and gas companies, Enron executives and others.

"While each of those requests related to matters of national interest, none related specifically to misconduct of federal officials or even tax administration," Wyden and Stabenow wrote.

Other Democrats in the meantime have initiated efforts of their own to compel the release of Trump's tax returns. Representative Anna Eshoo, for example, offered a resolution on the House floor this week, directing the House Ways & Means Committee to request the president's tax returns. Her resolution was voted down.

And last week, 162 Democrats and 2 Republicans in the House signed a letter to Hatch and Brady requesting the same.

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