US President Donald Trump tries to listen to a question as walks on the South Lawn upon his return to the White House in Washington from Cleveland, Ohio, on...
YURI GRIPAS

Trump falsely says there’s ‘no law whatsoever’ on his tax returns

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/9/19, 9:44 PM ET

Law obligates IRS commissioner to turn over Trump taxes: Summers

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers talks with Rachel Maddow about why the law is clear that the IRS commissioner is obligated to respond to the request from Congress for Donald Trump’s tax returns, and why the White House should not be part of
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers talks with Rachel Maddow about why the law is clear that the IRS commissioner is obligated to respond to the request from Congress for Donald Trump’s tax returns, and why the White House should not be part of
Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) formally alerted the Treasury Department that he’s demanding access to Donald Trump’s tax returns. In fact, the powerful lawmaker set a deadline: the IRS would have to make the materials available by April 10.

That, of course, is today.

At the White House this morning, a reporter noted the legal requirements in this area, and the president gave every indication that his administration will ignore that deadline.

“There is no law. As you know, I got elected last time with this same issue, and while I’m under audit, I won’t do it…. There’s no law whatsoever…. I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit. It’s very simple…. I have no obligation to do that while I’m under audit.”

First, Trump has clung to the “under audit” talking point for years, and it’s never made sense.

Before his election, the Republican used this as excuse, but never offered any proof that the audit existed outside of his imagination. After Trump’s election, it’s true that every president since Watergate has had his tax returns audited automatically, but other modern presidents – from both parties – didn’t see the need for secrecy. Barack Obama, for example, posted his tax returns online for the public to review, despite the annual audit.

Trump could do the same thing today, but for reasons he still hasn’t explained, he doesn’t want to. The president said this morning that he’d “love to” disclose his tax returns, which would be far easier to believe if he actually did that, as he’s free to do at any time.

Second, when Trump says there’s “no law whatsoever” in this area, he’s overlooking one inconvenient statute.

As we’ve discussed, under existing federal law, some congressional leaders have the power to access individual tax returns from the Treasury Department. That power, created in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s, has been rarely used, but House Democrats are using it now.

Indeed, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers spoke with Rachel just last night about the Trump administration’s legal obligations to comply with the congressional demand. Summers added that there’s no reason for the White House to interfere with the process.

And yet, there was the president this morning, both interfering and pretending an inconvenient law doesn’t exist.

Trump and his team sure do seem nervous about all of this. Why is that?

Donald Trump and IRS

Trump falsely says there's 'no law whatsoever' on his tax returns