A New Jersey congressman says a rarely invoked 1924 law could be used to examine President Donald Trump's tax returns for possible conflicts of interest and Constitutional violations.Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, has asked the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, to order the Treasury Department to provide tax returns to the committee. Brady's office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.After privately examining returns -- Pascrell is seeking 10 years' worth -- the committee could decide to share them with the full House, which would in effect make them public. The 1924 law gives congressional committees that set tax policy the power to examine tax returns.
As the political process strays further from traditional norms, rarely seen legislative maneuvers, usually familiar only to those who follow Congress at a granular level, start to become more familiar.In recent years, for example, chatter about "discharge petitions" became far more common. More recently, Democrats added "resolutions of inquiry" to the political conversation. This week, USA Today noted an obscure 1924 law related to tax returns that's suddenly significant.
A day later, the Ways and Means Committee voted on a measure that would require the Treasury Department to provide the panel with the president's returns. Predictably, the vote didn't go the Democrats' way: there are 23 Republicans on the committee, and each of them voted not to take advantage of opportunity available under the law, helping shield Trump from scrutiny.Making the case against the idea, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters, "If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans? Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them."And if Congress had oversight authority over average Americans, this might actually make some sense.Regardless, it's good to see Democrats stick with this issue, especially given its relevance to the White House's Russia scandal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday issued a statement urging the president to fire National Security Advisor Michael Flynn -- the statement predated his resignation by a few hours -- which added, "As long as Republicans refuse to compel the release of President Trump's tax returns, they are complicit in covering up Russia's financial, personal and political hold on the administration."The Minority Leader brought this up again during a press conference on Monday.Let's note for context that Pelosi, in her capacity as a Gang of Eight member, has received classified briefings that other members aren't entitled to. It's hard not to wonder if she's pushing the line about tax returns with such vigor for a reason.Postscript: The White House petition on Trump's tax returns needed 100,000 signatures. As of this morning, the new total is above 900,000, easily making it the most successful petition in the online project's history.