While the move will be largely seen by Republicans as a political escalation, Neal explained in the letter the request is part of his oversight role. Neal wrote that the committee needed Trump's tax returns to consider the legislation related to the IRS's practice of auditing the presiding judges.
"Under the Internal Revenue Manual, a presidential income tax returns are subject to mandatory review, but this practice is IRS Policy and not codified in the Federal Tax Law, "Neal wrote in a letter to the IRS. "It is necessary for the committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of the underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return."
In a statement to CNN, Neal stressed that Neil said, "The committee's request was about" policy, not politics. "
" My preparations were made on my own track and timeline, completely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration, "Neal said. "My actions reflect a good reverence for our democracy and our institutions and are in no way based on the emotion of the moment or partisanship. I trust that in this spirit, the IRS will comply with federal law and provide me with the requested documents in a timely way. "
Neal has given the IRS until April 1
A months-long debate
Neal's announcement follows a month-long debate in the Ways and Means Committee on how and when to issue a request for Trump's tax returns.
Unlike other sensitive material Democratic chairmen have demanded from the Trump administration that the request for Trump's tax return could only come from a Democrat in the Capitol Hill. Under IRS code 6103, only the Joint Committee on Taxation, the chairman of the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee have authority to request tax information from a person. Given that the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley has long requested that Trump's tax returns be similar to the weaponization of the tax-writing committee, the ask fell to Neal.
But behind the scenes, Neal was meticulous about the decision. Democrats believe the statute is clear. Under the code, it says "the secretary must provide such a committee with any return or return information specified in such request." However, Neal, a pragmatic and judicious chairman more interested in working with the administration, has shared the priorities like infrastructure, then launched a controversial, partisan struggle that could determine his tenure, proceeded with caution.
"I am certain that we are within our legitimate legislative , legal and oversight rights, "Neal said in his statement Wednesday.
Liberals have been the committee's pressure on Neal both publicly and behind closed doors. Rep Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey, announced at the beginning of March that Neal was going to request Trump's tax returns in two weeks only to backtrack hours later to clarify it was only his opinion, not official guidance. Democratic Rep. Llyod Doggett, a member of the Ways and Means, complained that it was past time for Neal to make a request for the days leading up to the request.
Members also wanted Neal to extend any request to be not only personal returns, but also business returns And in their sweeping ethics reform legislation H.R. 1, the Democrats included a provision that would require presidential nominees and the President to disclose 10 years of business returns.
Ultimately, Neal requested information from eight of Trump's business entities including Bedminster Golf Course LLC as well as Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, DJT Holdings LLC, DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC, DTTM Operations LLC, DTTM Operations Managing Member Cor, LFB Acquisition Member Corp., and LFB Acquisition LLC.
In the early days of his chairmanship, Neal focused on building a relationship with members of the Trump Administration including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Even when Mnuchin refused to appear before his committee for a hearing on the impact of government shutdown on the upcoming tax season, the two men continued to work in coordination. Neal told CNN in March that he'd spoken directly to the president about his goals for infrastructure.
When Mnuchin did appear before his committee on March 14, Neal's opening statement reflected a chairman more interested in working with the administration on infrastructure and pension restoration than a liberal democrat preparing for the President's most closely-held personal documents related to his income and business practices over the past few years.
Ultimately, Neal made his request to the Internal Revenue Service, not Treasury, which Mnuchin heads. During that committee hearing where Mnuchin testified, he signaled to the committee that he had not handled other 6103 requests in the past.
When asked by a committee member about this, Mnuchin replied, "That is not something I would normally sign. It would be something that the IRS Commissioner would sign on."
While the Democrats chairmen across Capitol want this is Trump's tax returns for their own investigations, Neal's formal request is specific and targeted: an investigation into a program that audits the salaries of presidents. Under 6103, only Neal – not the chairman of other committees– will be provided with the information.
"The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all presidents and vice presidents, but little is known about the effectiveness of this program," Neal said in a statement.
CNN's Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.