For the last 40 years, U.S. Presidents have regularly released their tax returns. The refusal of President Trump to follow this precedent has raised questions about Congress’s authority to obtain his tax returns and related information. Congressional committees have broad powers and ample precedents for obtaining this information from multiple sources.
Under 26 U.S.C. § 6103 (f), the House Committee on Ways and Means, the Senate Committee on Finance, and the Joint Committee on Taxation have standing authority to obtain tax returns upon written request to the Department of the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service, and the Senate and House through a special resolution may authorize additional committees to exercise such authority. In addition, Treasury regulations interpreting 26 U.S.C. § 7216, the statute governing how tax return preparers disclose and handle tax information, expressly allow disclosures of tax information to Congress by accountants pursuant to “a subpoena issued by the United States Congress.” There are other avenues that committees have or could use to get tax return information as well, such as seeking this information from taxpayers, financial institutions, and states.
Congressional committees have routinely requested and obtained tax return information regarding individuals and organizations to conduct oversight during both Republican and Democratic administrations, including from high-ranking officials. For example: