President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry launched over allegations by a whistleblower in the intelligence community, and now a second whistleblower complaint—this one from the Internal Revenue Service—threatens to open up a new kind of scandal for the White House.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that an IRS whistleblower alleges that at least one Treasury Department political appointee tried to interfere with an annual audit of Trump’s or Vice President Mike Pence’s tax returns. If the allegation turns out to be true, it would indicate an abuse of power by a political appointee that would violate the independence of the IRS audit system.
The IRS whistleblower complaint first emerged months ago in a lawsuit by Rep. Richard Neal over Trump’s tax returns. But some of the specifics of the complaint have emerged, and the Post reports that congressional Democrats are taking the matter seriously.
The administration brushed off the complaint as not serious because it was based on conversations with other government officials, making it second-hand information (the whistleblower countered this in his interview with the Post by arguing that that’s what investigations are for). Congressional Democrats are considering making the complaint public, according to the Post. Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the person who received the whistleblower’s complaint, said in a court filing that he believes it raises “serious and urgent concerns.”
The whistleblower, a career IRS official, has insisted he was not motivated by politics and that he was following the advice of supervisors to push to have the complaint investigated. “I take very seriously the duty of career civil servants to act with integrity and perform our duties impartially, even at the risk that someone will make a charge of bias,” he told the Post.
President Donald Trump has still not released his tax returns, despite a precedent set by all modern presidents of doing so for transparency’s sake. He has given a set of reasons (mostly false, such as his claim that he could not release them while he was being audited), and Pence has followed suit in refusing to release his. House Democrats have sued for Trump to release his returns, saying Congress had a legal right to demand them, but the Treasury Department has not budged.
In May, the Post obtained a 10-page memo written by an attorney in the IRS Office of Legal Counsel finding the administration had to turn over a president’s returns if requested by Congress, unless the president invokes executive privilege. The Treasury Department has denied Congress’s request for the returns, but the White House has not invoked executive privilege.