In this April 2, 2019, 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. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Richard Neal, chairman of the House ways and means committee, is one of two members of Congress who can request individual tax returns © AP

The chairman of the House ways and means committee has asked the Internal Revenue Service to hand over six years of Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns, opening up a new battlefront between Democratic lawmakers and the White House.

Richard Neal, a Democratic representative from Massachusetts, said on Wednesday he had sent a letter to the IRS asking for Mr Trump’s tax returns from 2013 to 2018.

Mr Neal said his committee needed to examine whether the IRS was properly auditing the tax returns of sitting presidents — a responsibility he said fell within the oversight purview of his panel, the chief tax-writing committee of the House of Representatives. He said the request was “in no way based on emotion of the moment or partisanship”.

“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 programme,” Mr Neal wrote.

“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.”

He gave the IRS a deadline of April 10 to fulfil the request. In addition to requesting Mr Trump’s personal tax returns, he asked for the tax returns of eight Trump businesses, including his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Mr Neal had been under pressure from Democrats to request Mr Trump’s tax returns. Under IRS code 6103, Mr Neal is one of just two US lawmakers who can request them — the other being Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate finance committee, who said he would not follow suit.

“I will not go along with efforts to weaponise the authority of tax-writing committees to access tax returns for political purposes. Such an action would be unprecedented,” the Iowa Republican said.

Since his 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Trump has said he could not make his tax returns public because they were being audited by the IRS.

Democrats have argued that Mr Trump should release his tax filings to prove he was paying an appropriate amount of tax, and not taking advantage of improper loopholes or schemes, such as undervaluing his assets to secure a lower tax rate.

They have also speculated that Mr Trump’s returns could show whether any of his businesses were benefiting from the office of the presidency.

According to an ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in January, six in 10 Americans believe that Democratic lawmakers should obtain Mr Trump’s returns and make them public. 

Before Mr Trump, all US presidents since Jimmy Carter have made their tax returns public. 

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