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Democrats eye Trump’s tax returns, with Mnuchin in the middle 

click to enlarge President Donald Trump appears on stage during a campaign rally in Estero, Fla., Oct. 31, 2018. Democrats intend to request the president’s tax returns if they win control of the House or Senate, and the decision on whether to comply will fall to the Treasury secretary. - DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • President Donald Trump appears on stage during a campaign rally in Estero, Fla., Oct. 31, 2018. Democrats intend to request the president’s tax returns if they win control of the House or Senate, and the decision on whether to comply will fall to the Treasury secretary.

Alan Rappeport
New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — Democrats are preparing to use an obscure law to try to obtain a copy of President Donald Trump’s tax returns if they win control of the House or Senate — a scenario that could force one of the president’s most trusted aides to reveal his most closely guarded secret.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview that he would honor any legal requests from Congress to release the president’s tax returns, which are stored in a vault at the IRS. But the demand would undoubtedly thrust Mnuchin into the fraught position of balancing his loyalty to Trump with a legal requirement to deliver the returns.

“The first issue is they would have to win the House, which they haven’t done yet,” Mnuchin said during an interview in Jerusalem last week. “If they win the House and there is a request, we will work with our general counsel and the IRS general counsel on any requests.”

Mnuchin said his team would analyze any demands for the president’s returns and fulfill them if required by law. Asked whether a request made for political purposes would be legal, Mnuchin demurred, saying he did not want to stake out any legal positions. His team has not yet studied the issue, he said.

An IRS provision stemming from the 1920s appears to give the Trump administration little legal room to ignore such a request. The law states that the leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have the power to request taxpayer information from the IRS and asserts that “the secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.”

“On a plain reading of the statute, I think the baseline ought to be, they ask for taxpayer information, they’re entitled to it,” said Neal Wolin, who served as the Treasury Department’s general counsel from 1999 to 2001.

Andy Grewal, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, argued in the Yale Journal on Regulation last year that Trump could order the IRS not to disclose his returns if he can make the case that the congressional request has been made out of “personal animus” rather than for legitimate legislative reasons.
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