WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump and newly empowered congressional Democrats appeared to be on a collision course over the release of the President's tax returns, as a top Democrat signalled he would demand the information under federal law and Mr Trump insisted he would attempt to block any release.
Representative Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, slated to become the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, plans to insist Mr Trump voluntarily release his tax returns, he said in an interview.
If Mr Trump does not, then Mr Neal will file a legal request with the Treasury Secretary that would require the returns be disclosed to a small group of people on Capitol Hill. He predicted the matter would end up in federal court.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump said his tax returns were already under audit and therefore he would not release them.
He said he might consider releasing them at a later date, something he has said since at least 2016. "Nobody turns over a (tax) return when it's under audit," Mr Trump said during a news conference.
Later, though, he acknowledged the audit would not prevent the release of his tax returns. "I didn't say it prevented me, I said lawyers will tell you not to do it," he said.
Democrats have said they want to scrutinise Mr Trump's tax returns to see if he has any conflicts of interest.
The inquiry could potentially tie to a broader investigation into any connection between Mr Trump's presidential campaign and Russian involvement in the 2016 election - a charge the President has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Mr Neal said there was a longstanding precedent of presidents and presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. But he acknowledged the Treasury Department might not quickly provide the information, setting up a legal fight.
"I assume that there would be some sort of a court case, but we'd have to wait and see," he said.
He said he would defer to staff on the Joint Committee on Taxation in Congress to determine what information might be requested and who would have access to it.
If Democrats demand the returns and Mr Trump refuses to release them, it could set off a series of legal challenges, with federal judges being asked to adjudicate the limits of the President's power.
If Mr Neal makes a formal request, it would go to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Federal law stipulates that Mr Mnuchin "shall" turn over the tax returns, and does not appear to give the White House the power to intervene.
Mr Trump's main reason for saying he would not allow the tax returns to be released is because "people don't understand tax returns".
But Mr Neal dismissed that justification.