Jason Chaffetz: Trump’s tax returns and why Democrats are obsessed with them

The crown jewels for Democrats in their insatiable quest to overturn the results of the 2016 president election are Donald Trump’s tax returns.  They are convinced Trump has done something nefarious and in blatant violation of the law.  They don’t know what it is yet, but it must be in his tax returns, they guess.

Since the election season Democrats have renewed pressure on Trump to release his returns to them. He has refused, citing an ongoing audit.  He is not required by law to disclose them.  Previous candidates for president and vice president have voluntarily disclosed their returns. But that is simply a choice, not a requirement.

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Congress long ago contemplated the potential for IRS filings to be weaponized.  They wrote the law very specifically to protect taxpayers, laying out very clearly in code who is authorized to access tax records.

Under Title 26 U.S. Code, Section 6103 designates just four elected officials who can even access these confidential records:

The President of the United States: President Donald Trump (R)

The Chairman of Senate Finance: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa

The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation: Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

The Chairman of House Ways & Means: Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

When reviewing the returns, the law severely limits staff access. Even members of Congress may see them only in executive closed session.  In other words, the returns may not be publicly disseminated.  Period.  That means members of Congress or their designated staff are prohibited by law from taking it upon themselves to release the content of the returns, in writing or verbally.

There is no valid or justifiable reason to access the president’s returns (known as “6103 material” in Congress) other than the political quest to arm the Democrats with unsavory allegations against Donald Trump.

Other committees may gain access to the returns, but they must specify the precise reason.  Then the Congress must vote on releasing the information to the committees.  Rarely does this happen, but congressional observers expect Speaker Pelosi to bring up a resolution allowing the House Judiciary, Intel, and Oversight committees to fish through the president’s returns as well as the returns of his family members and associated entities.

There is no valid or justifiable reason to access the president’s returns (known as “6103 material” in Congress) other than the political quest to arm the Democrats with unsavory allegations against Donald Trump. There is no substantive allegation of wrongdoing other than overusing Twitter.

Consequently the Secretary of Treasury may not recognize the congressional request to turn over the tax returns because the Democrats have repeatedly made the public case these returns fulfill their political goals.  They have not made the case they are compelled to review these returns because there is a legislative imperative.

The Democrats will undoubtedly try to pin their justification on Michael Cohen’s comments, but he is on his way to a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress.  His obvious personal bias and animus towards the Trump family further discredits him and speaks to his motive for creating problems for the president and his family.

In this case, Democrats have already foreshadowed their conclusions prior to seeing any evidence.  We've seen them run this play once before.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the protection of the speech and debate clause – a provision that prevents elected members of Congress from being sued for anything they say on the House or Senate Floor – to smear then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  Without evidence, Reid accused Romney of not having paid taxes.  The allegation was proven to be fabricated, but the damage was done.

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Long before the current controversy over access to tax documents, Congress got this right.  Tax records should not be a tool of political warfare.  Democrats have already demonstrated their willingness to weaponize the IRS when they used it to target conservative nonprofits.  Can there be any doubt that their use of tax returns as a political weapon would not end with Donald Trump?

If Democrats are given the opportunity, President Trump’s tax returns will be used against him.  And in doing so, the Democrats once again will set aside the inconvenient covenants of due process and the presumption of innocence that should be afforded to all of our citizens, including the President of the United States.

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