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House Democrats take first step to access Trump tax returns

By Nicholas Sakelaris
House Democrats take first step to access Trump tax returns
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman John Lewis, D-Ga., (C) makes opening remarks as ranking member Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., (R) and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Ala., listen, during committee hearings, on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- For more than two years, Democrats have asked President Donald Trump for his tax returns. Thursday, they take the first step to force him to hand them over.

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon to discuss the legality of presidential and vice presidential tax returns.

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Several academics, analysts and tax experts will attend the meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. EST.

"This is our first real crack," panel member Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey told NPR. "We have a responsibility. You either live up to the responsibility or you don't."

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Traditionally, presidential candidates publicly release their tax returns as a show of transparency, but it is not required. Trump did not publicize any of his recent returns during the campaign and hasn't shown them since he took office.

"You've got to ask yourself, why doesn't he want to release them?" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said during the 2016 race. "Well, we're going to find out."

The committee said the public has a right to see the returns, but expects resistance from the Trump administration. The panel can ask the Treasury to turn over the records of any taxpayer, but the Cabinet-level department could delay or reject the request.

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Thursday's hearing is focused on Democrats' wide-ranging ethics reform legislation, HR1, which would require by law future presidential candidates release 10 years worth of returns.

Pascrell has pushed for Trump's tax documents for more than a year, but said Republicans wouldn't cooperate when they controlled the House. Thursday's hearing marks the first congressional step in two years to access the records.

In early 2016, Trump said he'd release the returns after a federal audit was complete. As of Thursday, he still hadn't done so.

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House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., promised the coming investigation will be measured and fair.

"We will not be bullied by the president of the United States," Jeffries said. "That said, we're not going to overreach, we're not going to overrinvestigate, we're not going to overpoliticize our constitutional responsibilities."

Democratic committee member Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin said there will be no rush, either.

"I've got to believe that the Mueller team already has their hands on the president's tax returns," he said. "If they're looking for a possible connection between Russia and his family, there is a danger in trying to go too far too fast."

The New York Times reported in October Trump's father passed $413 million on to him from sham corporations and other tax-dodging means. Trump said then the IRS signed off on the transactions years ago.

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