PRESIDENTIAL TAX RETURNS; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 59
(Senate - April 04, 2019)

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[Pages S2258-S2260]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                        PRESIDENTIAL TAX RETURNS

  Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, yesterday the Ways and Means Committee 
sent a letter to the IRS requesting the President's tax returns. Last 
night, I had a chance to read that letter, and I have to say that if 
you take it at its face value, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 
Consider the reasons that are stated in that letter from the Ways and 
Means Committee for requesting the President's tax returns. It states 
that the committee is conducting oversight of the audit process that 
the IRS uses to evaluate Presidential tax returns.
  Currently, the IRS examines the President's tax returns as a matter 
of policy--simple policy--but a review isn't required by law. Democrats 
of the Ways and Means Committee have said they are now looking into 
whether the current IRS policies of auditing the President is enough or 
if congressional action may be needed. Democrats have even been talking 
about making IRS audits of the President's returns mandatory every 
year, even though--now, I understand that--even though the IRS does 
that every year, and they have been doing it for a long period of time.
  In a press release, a Democratic member of the Ways and Means 
Committee said he has a duty to examine whether congressional action is 
needed to require Presidential audits and to oversee that they are done 
correctly. Ask yourself why that member would be saying that.
  I, for one, haven't seen any evidence that the IRS has suddenly 
changed its policy under this President, meaning President Trump, or 
that it is conducting a less thorough review of President Trump's taxes 
than it did of previous Presidents or that it hasn't

[[Page S2259]]

conducted a review at all. So why are the Democrats considering these 
changes to the Tax Code now? Why didn't they raise the issue under 
President Obama or President Bush or President Clinton? The answer of 
course is that nothing has changed.
  There is no reason to believe the IRS is doing any less due diligence 
in its review of President Trump's taxes than it has for any other 
President in our memory. The letter also states the committee needs to 
know the scope of the audit that the IRS conducts when it looks at a 
President's tax returns; that it needs to know whether there is a 
review of underlying business activities reported by the President. If 
Democrats are truly interested in finding out the level of scrutiny 
given to a President's tax returns, why not simply just ask the IRS to 
describe its audit procedure? That is a very straightforward question, 
and I am sure Commissioner Rettig would be happy to oblige with a 
straightforward answer. Why is there a need to seek President Trump's 
tax returns in order to get an answer to those questions? I want to 
give you a hint: There isn't one.
  The letter also states that the committee is looking into how the IRS 
is doing its job of enforcing tax laws in a fair and impartial manner. 
In a statement yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee said it 
especially wants to know whether or not audits of Presidential tax 
returns are fully and appropriately being conducted.
  Along those lines, in addition to asking for President Trump's tax 
returns and those of his businesses for the last 6 years, the Democrats 
have asked for information on the status of all audits of those tax 
returns that have been conducted. It sounds like they are planning to 
conduct their own review of the President's tax returns to see whether 
the IRS has been doing its job. Now, there is a problem with that.
  The IRS audits more than 1 million tax returns every year. While 
audits of the President and Vice President might happen automatically, 
the audit process that is followed for them ought to be the same as it 
is for everyone else. Every member of the Ways and Means Committee 
knows that as well.
  In members' remarks yesterday, they said the committee has a 
responsibility to conduct oversight of the tax system to determine how 
Americans, including those in elected office, are complying with the 
law. In other words, the President and the Vice President ought to be 
held to the same high standards as every other American--not a 
different standard but the same standard. There is no reason to believe 
this isn't already happening. Democrats haven't offered a shred of 
evidence to suggest the IRS hasn't done its job auditing President 
Trump, his taxes, or anybody else's for that matter.
  By the way, if Democrats are really so concerned about enforcement, 
then why not ask the Treasury inspector general to conduct a review of 
the IRS audit process? Well, I want to tell you why they might not do 
that. It is because they are not concerned about oversight of the IRS 
enforcement process at all. What they are interested in is using their 
oversight responsibilities to collect as much information about this 
President's finances as they can get their hands on, and that is really 
the bottom line, isn't it?
  This letter from the House Democrats doesn't make sense when taken at 
face value because you can't take it at face value. Democrats say they 
are interested in the tax returns of all Presidents when they are 
really just interested in one--President Trump's.
  If the effort to get the President's tax returns isn't part of a 
grand reform effort, as they would have us believe, then what is it 
motivated by? I want to tell you what it is motivated by. It is 
motivated by the Democrats' intense dislike of this President. It is 
motivated by their frustration over losing an election they thought 
they would easily win. It is motivated by their desire to use all of 
the resources at their disposal to find something--anything--to bring 
this President down.
  Just take a look at how this whole effort to request the President's 
tax return has unfolded. That will tell you a real story. Democrats 
started making calls for President Trump to release his tax returns 
while he was still a candidate during the 2016 election. At the time, 
Democratic calls for the release of his tax returns were clearly just a 
political attack, not a policy issue as they now want us to believe.
  Secretary Clinton said: ``There must be something really terrible in 
those tax returns.''
  Her communications director used the issue to chide then-candidate 
Trump for ``hiding behind fake excuses and backtracking on . . . 
previous promises.''
  In his speech before the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. 
Clinton's running mate questioned then whether then-Candidate Trump had 
been paying his fair share, at once calling for him to release his tax 
returns and asking: ``Donald, what are you hiding?''
  Since the election, these calls have continued, as you see yesterday. 
Democrats have just come up with more inventive excuses for making 
these calls, although I suspect the underlying political reasons are 
the same today as they were in 2016. Consider how those reasons have 
changed over time.

  Not long after the election, at the beginning of the last Congress, 
93 House Democrats signed a resolution of inquiry directing the 
Secretary of Treasury to turn over the President's tax returns. That 
request to turn over his tax returns was to be provided to the full 
House of Representatives and not to the Committee on Ways and Means.
  The House Democrats' portion of that resolution committee report, 
signed by the ranking member and current chairman, is filled with 
complaints about the President's refusal to release his tax returns, 
none of which ever mentioned reviewing IRS audits or even inquiring 
about IRS audit procedures.
  In that report, Democrats say that the President has ``rebuked over 
40 years of tradition'' by refusing to release his tax returns. They 
say that the President's tax returns should be released because he has 
a vast domestic and international business empire. They say they should 
be released because he is ``not the average American.'' They say they 
should be released because he is President of the United States and has 
the power to sign bills into law, and that is supposed to serve as some 
kind of justification for demanding and releasing his tax returns. I 
can tell you that the law does not support that argument.
  Under section 6103 of the Federal Tax Code, the tax returns of all 
Americans, including even the President of the United States, are 
considered to be private information.
  Without an individual's permission, tax information can't be released 
except under the most limited circumstances. Let's not forget that our 
Tax Code reads that way for a very good reason.
  Congress reformed the modern IRS privacy law in 1976, not long after 
President Nixon left office. Nixon had used his power over the IRS to 
target his political enemies. By passing that law in 1976, Congress 
wanted to make sure that never happened again. Congress was determined 
to put protections in place that would prevent any kind of abuse of 
that IRS power in the future. Congress wanted to ensure private tax 
information was never used for political purposes again. But if you 
strip away all of the pretense and trace this current effort back to 
its roots, that sounds an awful like what is happening right now with 
the efforts of the members of the Ways and Means Committee.
  I stopped listing them, but Democrats have had plenty of other 
reasons in the past for claiming to need President Trump's tax returns.
  In 2017, Democrats also said the President's taxes should be released 
because he stood to benefit from the tax reform that Congress passed 
and the President then signed into law. Apparently, because the 
President is wealthy and successful, they figured he must have had a 
self-interest in supporting that reform.
  A more recent effort to get the President's returns is contained in a 
bill the House Democrats recently sent to the Senate, known as H.R. 1. 
That bill contains a provision requiring that candidates for President 
and Vice President, as well as the sitting President and Vice 
President, release their last 10 years of individual tax returns. 
Assuming the proposal lives on, even if the bill doesn't, I wonder if 
that is one of the items they were hoping to evaluate through their 
current oversight efforts.

[[Page S2260]]

  Maybe they want to see the President's tax returns in order to 
evaluate their proposal to see the President's tax returns. That sounds 
like a lot of circular logic to me.
  Democrats have also made a big deal out of the fact that under 
section 6103, the Secretary of the Treasury ``shall'' turn over 
relevant tax records to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee if 
he requests it. That is exactly right, as long as the committee has a 
legitimate legislative purpose in asking for them, as opposed to this 
perceived political reason for why they want to do it.
  For decades, the courts have been clear that congressional requests 
for information, like those tax returns or anything else we are trying 
to do, must have a legitimate legislative purpose. That is where the 
Democrats come up very, very short.
  See, they don't have a purpose. All they have are a lot of excuses. 
Let me tell you something. Introducing legislation that would 
essentially require the President to release his tax returns and then 
using that to somehow justify requesting the President's tax returns is 
one of the worst excuses I have ever heard of.
  You would think, considering the amount of time and practice they 
have had trying to rationalize all of this and make it sound so very 
good, they would be able to come up with something a little bit better 
than that. Apparently not, and that really speaks volumes, doesn't it?
  The fact is, the reasons the Democrats have offered for wanting 
President Trump's tax returns back in 2016 and 2017 don't pass muster 
any better than the ones they are trying to peddle right now. That is 
because they are not requesting the tax returns in order to investigate 
a problem in need of oversight at all. All they really care about is 
finding a pretext to bring this President down.
  As a Member of Congress who knows firsthand the importance of good 
oversight, that is what concerns me the most about this whole campaign 
that is going on in the other body.
  I happen to know a thing or two about oversight. Over my career, I 
have conducted oversight of the last seven Presidential 
administrations--Democrat and Republican. I have called out both 
parties for doing things they shouldn't be doing. In that spirit, I 
have always said that every single Member of Congress is dutybound to 
conduct oversight of the Federal Government. In fact, I remind every 
new Member that I run into in this body--and the Presiding Officer has 
heard me tell him this--that if you want to get a bill passed, you have 
to have 51 votes to get it passed, but if you want to do oversight, you 
have to have one vote--your own decision to do that oversight.
  The responsibility to conduct oversight is and ought to be regarded 
by each and every one of us as sacrosanct. The power to conduct 
oversight flows directly from the Constitution.
  As Members of Congress, we owe it to the people we represent to 
preserve and protect its use as a tool for carrying out our legitimate 
constitutional responsibilities. I don't believe for a minute that when 
the Framers created article I--the power of Congress to legislate--what 
they had in mind was Members using these powers to collect personal 
information on their political opponents in an effort to destroy those 
political opponents.
  In all my years of conducting oversight, I have never started with an 
end result and then worked backward in search of a reason for making it 
happen. That is not how oversight is done.
  Oversight is about advocating for transparency, and with transparency 
comes accountability in order to fix problems and to improve 
government. It is not about searching for ways to sow division and tear 
down your political opponents. What Democrats are doing now looks a lot 
more like the latter than the former. If that is what they are up to, 
it is not oversight at all.
  When you strip away all of their pretexts and when you strip out 
their circular logic, all you have are Democrats who want to go after 
the President in any way they can. They dislike him with a passion, and 
they want his tax returns to destroy him. That is all this whole 
process is about, and it is Nixonian to the core.
  I yield.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.
  Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I ask that the order for the quorum call be 
rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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