By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House tax committee Chairman Richard Neal said on Thursday that he will decide by the end of the week whether to subpoena President Donald Trump's tax returns or go to court to obtain the documents, which the administration refuses to hand over.
As part of an escalating clash between Democrats and the Trump administration, Neal said he talked with lawyers for the House of Representatives on Thursday about next steps and would have a final discussion with them later in the day.
"Now we proceed to the limited options that are left," he told reporters, saying he would choose between issuing a subpoena and proceeding directly to court. "By the end of the week, we’ll make a determination," he said.
Amid a broad stonewalling of numerous House probes into Trump's presidency and family and business interests, the administration is opposing Neal's efforts to obtain six years of Trump's individual and business tax returns.
As House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Neal is the only House lawmaker authorized to seek Trump's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service under a federal law that says the Treasury secretary "shall furnish" such documents upon request.
Democrats want Trump's returns as part of their inquiry into possible conflicts of interest posed by his continued ownership of extensive business interests, even as he serves as president.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday denied Neal's formal April 3 request for the returns, arguing that the committee request lacks "a legitimate legislative purpose."
Trump has broken with a decades-old precedent among recent U.S. presidents by refusing to release his tax returns while a presidential candidate in 2016 or since being elected, saying he could not do so while his taxes were being audited.
Numerous tax experts have said an audit should not be an obstacle to disclosing his returns.
His former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House panel in February that he does not believe Trump's taxes are under audit. Cohen said the president feared releasing his returns could lead to an audit and IRS tax penalties. [nL1N20M27T]
Some Democrats, angry about Trump's stonewalling, have called for impeaching top administration officials who refuse to comply with congressional investigations.
"You do the same thing to anyone else who doesn't want to follow the law," Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democratic presidential candidate and House Judiciary Committee member, said at a Wednesday committee meeting on Barr's contempt citation.
"With this lawless administration, I imagine we're also going to see characters like Steve Mnuchin, who's also not following the law when it comes to the president's tax returns," he said.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)