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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Seal of the Internal Revenue Service (Image source: Public domain)
There has been much, much legal wrangling over Donald Trump's tax returns. He refused to release them before the 2016 elections, as is customary, claiming he was being audited, and three years later, they are still being kept under lock and key, although New York, the federal government, and the House Democrats have been trading lawsuits back and forth to release them/protect them.
While the CIA whistleblower is all over the news right now, there's also another whistleblower making claims, one from the Internal Revenue Service. This person filed a complaint claiming an appointee to the Treasury Department tried to interfere with the annual audit of either Trump's or Vice President Mike Pence's tax returns, according to sources who are familiar with the document.
What the Democrats are falling back on for the release of the tax returns is the IRS annual audit of the president's and vice president's tax returns. This practice is supposed to be kept separate from political appointees and interference.
Several months ago this complaint came to light, though not that much of it had become public, People briefed on its contents have now said the complaint was filed by a career IRS official and that it pertains to allegations that a Treasury Department official interfered in the audit process.
Two administration officials have referred to the IRS complaint as hearsay and have said it was politically motivated. Democrats who've read the complaint see it as a deeply significant allegation. Strict privacy laws prevent any details related to the filing of tax returns to be released.
House Ways and Means committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) received the complaint in July and said in court since then that it contains credible evidence of "potential 'inappropriate efforts to influence' the mandatory audit program." He believes it raises "serious and urgent concerns."
The whistleblower confirmed in an interview with The Washington Post this week that he had filed a formal complaint and sent it to tax committee chairs in both the House and Senate as well as the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration on July 29.
While it has been made very public that Trump never released his tax returns, Vice President Mike Pence has not done so either.
It has not been revealed whether the whistleblower complaint is about Trump or Pence, but Neal said in an August court filing that the allegations in the complaint "cast doubt" on the Trump administration's insistence that there is no reason for the concern that IRS employees could face interference when auditing a president's tax returns.
"Nobody at the Treasury Department should be calling to find out the status of anybody's audit," said John Koskinen, who served as IRS commissioner under Trump as well as former President Barack Obama.
"For a Treasury official to call a career person — even just for information — seems to me highly inappropriate, even if it's just checking in on how it's going."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the top Democrat in the Senate Finance Committee led by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), believes the panel should investigate the complaint immediately.
"It would be negligent for the Finance Committee to fail to investigate a whistleblower's allegations of political interference," he said. "A bipartisan committee effort to get to the bottom of this should have been started months ago."
At a congressional hearing last month, James Jackson, a Treasury Department deputy inspector general, was asked about the whistleblower's complaint and said, "We can't confirm or deny that we may or may not be doing anything. I can tell you, though, that anytime we get any kind of allegation in this world, in this realm, we investigate it aggressively."
He added that they are not aware of any misconduct.
The whistleblower denies he was politically motivated. "Anyone who knows me knows i would not hesitate to do the same, as would most career IRS public servants, regardless of any political preference," he said.
"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."
With regard to whistleblowers being more in danger because of fears of retribution, such as Trump demanding to know the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower, the IRS whistleblower says, "I steadfastly refuse to discuss the substance or details of the complaint, but I have some legitimate concerns about reckless statements being made about whistleblowers.
Such statements "attack the messenger when the focus should be on the facts that were presented. I am concerned also by the relative silence of people who should be repudiating these dangerous attacks in the strongest terms."
Neal said he is consulting with legal counsel regarding whether he should release the whistleblower's complaint.
A lawmaker speaking anonymously says Neal has "been almost entirely silent about the whole matter" related to the whistleblower in private meetings of the Ways and Means Committee Democrats.
Treasury investigators are aware of the complaint, and probably also the inspector general, according to the whistleblower. "I brought my concerns to my supervisors, who advised me to report the matter to the appropriate people with investigatory authority," he said.
Neal first came forward with the whistleblower's complaint as part of his lawsuit against the Trump administration regarding the release of Trump's returns.
He told a federal court that House Democrats had received an unsolicited message from a federal employee "setting forth credible allegations of 'evidence of possible misconduct'— specifically, potential 'inappropriate efforts to influence' the mandatory audit program."
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