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Congress' quest for Trump tax returns likely headed to court

A House Democratic committee chairman had warned that if the Treasury Department did not comply with a 5 p.m. deadline Friday to hand over President Trump's tax returns, he'd likely to sue the department "as quickly as next week." House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal will have an opportunity to make good on that threat, after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded Friday afternoon that the department would not be turning over the returns to the committee. 

Neal, who had requested six years' worth of documentation of the president's taxes and the taxes of his business entities in April, also said he did not plan to hold Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoena.

"I don't see that right now as an option," Neal told reporters Friday, even though he said he did not expect him to comply with the subpoena. "I think the better option for us is to proceed with a court case."

The Massachusetts Democrat issued the subpoena for the president's tax returns to Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig last Friday after Mnuchin denied Neal's initial request. Neal says he's entitled to the returns under section 6103(f) of the IRS code, in order to conduct oversight and determine whether the IRS is enforcing laws. 

Mnuchin argued that Congress doesn't have a "legitimate legislative purpose" in requesting the president's private information.

Neal is already facing resistance from some of his fellow Democrats on the committee who want to see administration officials who refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas individually punished under the law.

"There may be better options than going to court," Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat of New Jersey, told reporters Friday, arguing that it dismisses Congress from its responsibilities under the Constitution. He wants to consider filing charges against Rettig and Mnuchin, and he's urging Congress to look to section 7214 of the U.S. code, which says that unlawful acts by U.S. revenue officers or agents are punishable by a fine of of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

Pascrell dismissed a legal battle as "a very dangerous position for us to be in." He continued, "It's a comfortable position. So you choose comfort or you choose pursuing what you think is the law. The law is on our side."

However, Pascrell also said he supports the way Neal has handled the request for the president's tax returns so far, even though he was one of the members vocally pushing Neal to move more quickly than he did after Democrats took control of the House in January. 

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