Professor Rebecca Kysar was quoted in a Vox article addressing the question of whether Congress has the right to demand Trump’s tax returns.
So where does this leave us? Does Congress have the right to demand Trump’s tax returns? And if the Treasury Department refuses to hand them over, what happens next?
Rebecca Kysar, law professor, Fordham University
The House Ways and Means Committee’s request to obtain the president’s tax returns falls squarely within its oversight and legislative authority, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has no basis to refuse the request.
The chairman of the Committee, Rep. Neal, is relying upon Section 6103(f), which entitles Congress’s tax committees to obtain any tax return or other tax information, including IRS audit work files. Under Section 6103(f), the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” these documents upon written request from the committee, denying any exercise of discretion from the secretary.
Even if Section 6103 were not on the books, Congress’s inherent legislative powers under Article I of the Constitution would support this request. Courts have ruled that Congress can investigate issues to aid in its consideration of legislation, administration of existing laws, and general oversight authority. To be sure, these powers are limited somewhat: Congress can only investigate matters on which it has power to oversee, legislate, or fulfill some other legislative function. Since all of Congress’s actions need to be within its constitutional authority, this general constitutional limitation on Congress’s investigatory powers likely extends to 6103(f) investigations.