House chairman asks IRS for 6 years of Trump’s tax returns

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., arrives for a Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington. Neal, whose committee has jurisdiction over all tax issues, has formally requested President Donald Trump's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., arrives for a Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington. Neal, whose committee has jurisdiction over all tax issues, has formally requested President Donald Trump's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

A House committee chairman on Wednesday formally asked the IRS to provide six years of President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns as Democrats try to shed light on his complex financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest.

The request by Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years. The unprecedented move is likely to set off a huge legal battle between Democrats controlling the House and the Trump administration.

Neal made the request in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, asking for Trump’s personal and business returns for 2013 through 2018.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he “would not be inclined” to provide his tax returns to the committee.

Democrats insist that obtaining Trump’s tax filings falls within their mandate of congressional oversight. Republicans have denounced it as a political witch hunt and invoked privacy concerns.

The legal battle set to ensue could take years to resolve, possibly stretching beyond the 2020 presidential election.

Trump broke with decades of tradition for presidential candidates by refusing to release his income tax filings during his 2016 campaign. He has said he won’t release them because he is being audited, even though IRS officials have said taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns. Trump claimed at a news conference following the November election that the filings are too complex for people to understand.

The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice presidents, “yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program,” Neal said in a statement Wednesday evening. “On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately.”

Neal continued, “In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities.”

Neal is one of only three congressional officials authorized under to make a written request to the Treasury secretary for anyone’s tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service is part of the Treasury Department. A rarely used 1924 law says the Treasury chief “shall furnish” the requested material to members of the Ways and Means Committee for them to examine behind closed doors.

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