As the White House faces pressure from congressional Democrats on several fronts, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow fired back at the House Ways and Means Committee’s bid for the president’s tax returns on Sunday, arguing the request does not serve a "legitimate legislative purpose."
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"This idea that you can use the IRS as a political weapon … is incorrect both as a matter of statutory law and constitutionally," Sekulow said in an exclusive interview on "This Week" Sunday morning. "It's not the law for the United States. We don't have a requirement that presidents do that."
President Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow accuses Democrats of using "the IRS as a political weapon."— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) April 7, 2019
"The President has not asked for Nancy Pelosi's tax returns ... they have not produced their tax returns. It's not a requirement that they do, by the way" https://t.co/nwjYcdvfmZ pic.twitter.com/8fIO4k16vD
Last week, the Democrat-controlled panel formally requested Trump’s business and personal tax information dating back to 2013 from the IRS. In making his request, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., cited Section 6103(f) of the federal tax code, an obscure, nearly hundred-year-old provision, which says that the Treasury Secretary "shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request."
The very purpose of the tax code provision Neal wants to exercise was written with the express intention of executive branch oversight, in the wake of the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow in the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a tax lawyer with 25 years' experience.
"If you look to the legislative context for why this statute exists, and then why Neal is asking, there is not any credible argument to refute the request," Rosenthal told ABC News.
In a letter to the Treasury Department’s general counsel on Friday, a new lawyer for Trump, William Consovoy, called the move by Democrats "a gross abuse of power" and encouraged the IRS to "refrain from divulging the requested information."
"If it has to be litigated, it will be litigated," Sekulow told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. "As the president’s counsel, we have the right to protect his interests as a private citizen and as president."
Asked about Democrats’ request, Trump said last week that he is "not inclined" to release any of his tax information willingly, citing an ongoing audit.
Sekulow also reiterated the president’s position on the much-anticipated release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which Attorney General William Barr has said could come out "by mid-April, if not sooner."
"The president has said he turns this over to the attorney general," Sekulow said Sunday. "The attorney general, pursuant to the regulations, George, makes the determination as to what’s released, how it’s released."
Democrats are clamoring for more information about the special counsel’s nearly 400-page report since Barr released his four-page letter to Congress outlining the document’s "principal findings."
On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas for the full report, but the chairman of that panel, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has said the committee would "work with the attorney general" before issuing any subpoenas.
"I find it ironic that people are talking about subpoenas already for the documents when we’re probably less than a week away – or about a week away – from getting them," Sekulow said Sunday.
But a report in the New York Times suggesting "some" of Mueller's investigators believe Barr has "failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry" breathed new life into the debate over Barr’s handling of the report.
The Washington Post later reported that the special counsel’s office had prepared summaries that could be released publicly, reflecting different sections of Mueller's report, which Barr has withheld. One source told the Post that the summaries contained potentially sensitive information that needed to be vetted before release.
Sekulow on Sunday brushed those reports aside, denying that the full report will be more damaging to the president than what Barr indicated in his four-page letter to congress.
"There’s two conclusions that are important to reiterate," Sekulow said. "No obstruction, and no collusion."
In response to those news reports, the Justice Department issued a statement on the attorney general's handling of the matter without directly addressing those reports.
"Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General [previously] decided to release the report's bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately -- without attempting to summarize the report," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.