House tax chief: I won't ask for Trump's tax returns

Kellyanne Conway walks back Trump tax claim
Kellyanne Conway walks back Trump tax claim

Texas Republican Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Monday he doesn't believe his panel has the authority to request Donald Trump's tax returns and made it clear he had no intention of asking for them.

"Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them," Brady said.

New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, a member of the committee, recently sent Brady a letter arguing that Ways and Means has the legal authority to obtain the president's tax returns without his consent. He urged Brady to ask the Treasury secretary for 10 years of Trump's tax records.

In response, Brady said he has "read his letter and I disagree with all of it."

Brady said he thinks the law provides for those records to remain private. "In fact that letter misrepresents the legislative intent of that provision, which in fact creates confidentiality and privacy for Americans in their tax returns," he said.

That interpretation doesn't square with that of law professor George Yin, who used to be the chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation.

As Yin reads the law, the chairman of Ways and Means, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation may request anyone's tax returns -- including the president's -- from the Treasury secretary.

Related story: How Congress could get Trump's tax returns

And if one of the committees thinks releasing the returns to the House or Senate would further a legitimate committee purpose and be in the public interest, they can do that -- without Trump's consent, Yin said.

Justifying a public interest in Trump's tax returns might not be difficult.

The president's business holdings are vast, and the steps he's taken so far to eliminate potential conflicts of interest have not satisfied ethics experts and others.

During the 2016 presidential campaign and even while in office, Trump and his surrogates have said he would only release his tax returns after an IRS audit has been completed. But there's nothing preventing him from doing so during an audit.

Related: Why tax reform is a lot harder than it looks

Brady also took aim Monday at the IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, who House conservatives have criticized. Some have tried unsuccessfully to force a vote to impeach him.

Koskinen came under fire during GOP hearings on his agency's handling of setting aside some groups' efforts to gain tax exempt status because of their political leanings. Even though he wasn't in the job during the episode, he was criticized for records disappearing relevant to a probe under his tenure.

Brady called Koskinen "the most corrupt IRS commissioner that I've ever dealt with -- continues in my view to mislead Congress, and until he's removed I don't think the IRS will ever regain its credibility and certainly isn't making an effort on customer service, and it's one of the reasons in our tax reform proposal we dramatically simplify the tax code."

The IRS, in a statement to CNN, responded to Brady's claims: "As Commissioner Koskinen has said numerous times, he has always testified truthfully before Congress. He remains focused on the important work of the IRS, including the successful start of this year's filing season for the nation‎'s taxpayers.

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