One mission that Democrats have been on since they took control of the House of Representatives is to finally get their hands on President Donald Trump‘s tax returns. Doing this is easier said than done, however, because an appropriate committee would need a good reason to do so. On Tuesday, they may have gotten one, thanks to one frequent object of Republican derision, Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Ocasio-Cortez asked Michael Cohen about ways in which Trump may have defrauded the IRS, including allegedly undervaluing his parents’ real estate properties to avoid taxes. She quoted a New York Times report that said Trump utilized “a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing his tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.”
The congresswoman then asked Cohen if he could confirm the Times report on this. Cohen said no, since he didn’t work for Trump in the 1990s, but Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg might be able to. Weisselberg, you may remember, got an immunity deal from Southern District of New York prosecutors investigating hush payments that Cohen said Trump “directed,” in violation of campaign finance law.
Ocasio-Cortez then revealed where she was going with this.
“And would it help for the Committee to obtain federal and state tax returns from the president and his company to address that discrepancy?” she asked.
“I believe so,” Cohen responded.
Now, the question is whether this is a good enough reason. University of Iowa Law Professor Andy Grewal wrote in February 2017 that while certain Congressional committees have the power to request an individual’s tax returns, they need a proper legislative purpose to get someone’s tax returns.
It may just come down to whether Ocasio-Cortez and her Democratic colleagues can use this “discrepancy” in Trump’s valuation of property to formulate a proper legislative reason. Grewal wasn’t convinced that they have quite enough.
“That seems like an issue for the state or county agency which assesses the real property taxes,” he told Law&Crime. “Not really a job for the federal legislature.”
University of Alabama Law Professor Joyce Vance, however, thought Ocasio-Cortez did do a good job laying the foundation for seeking Trump’s tax returns.
Nice job by @AOC establishing that it’s essential for the Committee’s to take testimony from Trump Org’s Allen Weisselberg & to review the President’s tax returns to complete its oversight responsibilities.
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) February 27, 2019
At any rate, Democrats at least have an excuse to try. If they do, Trump can refuse, in which case the Committee could try to issue a subpoena, which would likely result in the courts deciding the issue.
[Image via CNN screengrab]