There’s been a lot of grumbling here about the slow pace of House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s efforts to get Trump’s tax returns. ( A diary doing just this, went on the front page while I was working on this diary, which is essentially an expansion of a comment I made there.)
I happen to think we sometimes protest too much, and while he could have moved faster, Neal is trying to build a careful case that will not only pass muster with the courts but, more importantly, persuade the American people that this is a legitimate pursuit and not a political vendetta.
But now the pace has just picked up. Neal has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there is no issue of fact or law, and that a speedy resolution is needed.
The House panel argued that “time is of the essence” in resolving the case, since the current Congress will end in January 2021.
“The Committee must obtain a prompt resolution of the issues in this case if it is to have enough time to investigate the tax issues implicated by President Trump’s tax returns and return information and propose and pass any legislation that it may deem appropriate in response,” the panel argued. The Hill 8/20/2019
Moreover, this motion is how we learned that a whistleblower came to the committee with information that someone interfered with Trump’s audits:
[Rachel] Maddow reported on Exhibit QQ in the latest filings, which is a letter from Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“On July 29, 2019, the Committee received an unsolicited communication from a Federal employee setting forth credible allegations of ‘evidence of possible misconduct’ — specifically, potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the mandatory audit program,” Exhibit QQ read. Raw Story 8/22/2019
(I was watching her show last night, which is how I learned about this.) If the plain reading of the 1924 statute weren’t enough, this allegation gives additional justification for the committee’s right to see the tax returns — they are evaluating the IRS’s audits to see if they comply with the law. That is precisely within their jurisdiction.
I can’t speak to what was Neal’s thinking in declining to ask New York for Trump’s state tax returns, but here is how I would see the legal strategy: Trump can — and has — argue in the court of public opinion that the NY legislature passed that new law specifically as a political attack upon him, and if Neal were to take them up on that offer, it would weaken his case that he is conducting legitimate oversight. Instead, by relying on the 1924 law and on long-standing compliance with that law, he can easily make the case that he is doing nothing more than continuing to apply a well-established procedure for a long-accepted purpose: Congressional oversight of the executive.
it also happens that the judge hearing the case, Trevor McFadden, is a Trump appointee. But we’ve also seen Trump-appointed judges rule against him before. Neal has to make as strong a case as possible so the judge can’t find a way to wiggle out of ruling against Trump.