WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump, facing a congressional deadline for his administration to provide his tax returns, said Wednesday that he "won't do it" while he's under audit by the IRS.
Trump told reporters at the White House that "I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit." The IRS says there's no rule against subjects of an audit from publicly releasing their tax filings.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has asked the IRS to turn over six years' of the president's tax returns by the end of the day. Trump has broken with decades of precedent by not voluntarily releasing his returns to the public.
Trump's position has long been that he is under audit and therefore could not release his returns. But in recent weeks, he has added to the argument, saying publicly and privately that the American people elected him once without seeing his taxes and would do so again.
"Remember, I got elected last time — the same exact issue," Trump said. "Frankly, the people don't care."
The president has told those close to him that the attempt to get his returns were an invasion of his privacy and a further example of the Democratic-led "witch hunt" — like special counsel Robert Mueller's probe — meant to damage him.
Trump has repeatedly asked aides as to the status of the House request, and has inquired about the "loyalty" of the top officials at the IRS, according to one outside adviser who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who supervises the IRS, said Tuesday that he's not seeking direction from the White House on whether to comply. He said the department would likely respond by Neal's deadline but didn't say whether he would provide the returns as demanded.
Democrats don't expect the department to comply, but they haven't sketched out their next steps.
Neal has adopted a methodical approach to seeking Trump's returns. He has the option of eventually seeking to subpoena the records or to go to court if the IRS does not comply, but it's not clear he'll adopt a more confrontational approach just yet.
Neal's initial letter, sent a week ago, didn't lay out any consequences for the IRS if it didn't comply, and a spokesman said a likely course would be a second, more insistent, letter.
"We intend to follow through with this," Neal said Wednesday. "I'll let you know fast."
The request for Trump's tax filings is but one of many oversight efforts launched by Democrats after taking back the House in last fall's midterms. Neal is relying on a 1920s-era law that says the IRS "shall furnish" any tax return requested by the chairmen of key House and Senate committees.
Mnuchin told lawmakers that his department will "follow the law" but hasn't shared the department's interpretation of the statute.
The White House did not respond to questions as to whether the president asked Mnuchin or the IRS head to intervene. The president's outside attorney also did not respond to a request for comment.
The head of the IRS faced questions from lawmakers for a second day on his response to Neal's request.
"You are on the receiving end of a very aggressive political campaign by the Trump administration. ... It is your job, and your job alone, to respond to Chairman Neal's request," Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told Commissioner Charles Rettig.
Wyden cited the importance of the IRS to be independent of political pressure.
"We're working on a response with counsel and we will respond," Rettig said.
Rettig had agreed with Democrats on Tuesday that it's primarily his decision to make, though he reports to Mnuchin. "You must be aware that we're a bureau of Treasury, and Treasury supervises us," he told Wyden.
Rettig said he hadn't been instructed not to comply with the request by anyone acting on the White House's behalf.
Rettig, who formerly was a Beverly Hills tax lawyer, was appointed by Trump and took the IRS helm last October. During the 2016 campaign, he defended Trump's decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his tax filings. Under questioning at his confirmation hearing last August, Rettig pledged to uphold the political independence of the IRS.
Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.