US congressional Democrats have given the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) a final deadline of April 23 to hand over President Donald Trump‘s tax returns.
In letter on Saturday, Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, warned the IRS that failure to comply with his request for six years of Trump’s individual and business returns would be interpreted as a denial – a move that could pave the way for a court battle.
The Trump administration has already missed an initial April 10 deadline for providing the tax records, which Neal first set when he made his request on April 3.
“I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding my request and the authority of the Committee. Those concerns lack merit,” Neal said in his letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
He argued that a 1920-era law saying the IRS “shall furnish” any tax return requested by Congress “is unambiguous and raises no complicated legal issues”.
Democrats want Trump’s tax returns as part of their investigations of possible conflicts of interest posed by his continued ownership of extensive business interests, even as he serves the public as president.
Trump has broken with decades of precedent by not voluntarily releasing his returns to the public during the 2016 presidential election.
He claimed that he cannot release his tax returns because they are being audited, but the IRS has said this is no impediment to their release.
Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury chief who oversees the IRS, said Neal was “just picking arbitrary dates” in setting deadlines.
He told reporters it was more important to get the decision “right” to ensure the IRS would not be “weaponised” in a political dispute.
“I’m sure we’ll respond by that deadline, not going to make a commitment prematurely whether we’ll be able to conclude a legal review by that deadline,” Mnuchin said. “We have people working on it diligently.”
On Saturday, Neal said the administration has no right “to question or second guess” his motivations.
“Concerns about what the Committee may do with the tax returns and return information are baseless,” he said, giving the administration until 5:00pm (21:00 GMT) on April 23 to hand over the tax records.
“Please know that, if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” he wrote.
The president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House panel in February that he does not believe Trump’s taxes are under audit.
Cohen said the president feared that releasing his returns could lead to an audit and IRS tax penalties.