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Neal declines to give timeline for requesting Trump’s tax returns

Representative Richard Neal last week during a House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill.
Representative Richard Neal last week during a House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill.(Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

In the face of mounting liberal pressure, Representative Richard Neal indicated Thursday he has no intention of speeding up what he said should be a “judicious” process in requesting President Trump’s tax returns.

Neal, now the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, declined to provide a timeline for when he’d seek the records, which the committee is allowed to do for any American’s tax returns, the president’s included.

Saying the most important thing is “to get it right,” Neal indicated he will not be swayed by the growing impatience from the left, even as ads and billboards funded by a group led by billionaire Tom Steyer, an impeachment advocate, have sprung up around his Western Massachusetts district. Liberal activists have also been more vocal in calling on Neal, a Springfield Democrat, to act.

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“I’ve indicated that I intend to ask for the forms. But this is going to likely be a long court case,” Neal said, nodding to the White House’s stated intention of legally fighting the request. “Rather than I think succumb to the emotion of the moment, I think we’re far better off making sure that we get it right.”

Lawmakers have privately said they expect Neal to make the tax-returns request in the coming weeks, following testimony from Trump’s former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen last month that suggested Trump lied on his financial disclosure forms, the Globe has reported. Cohen’s testimony gives the committee a stronger argument that it needs the returns to investigate a potential crime instead of a political fishing expedition.

But Neal — now months into facing questions about his plan — also showed some exasperation when talking with reporters at the State House, where he had hosted a roundtable discussion on pension security.

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“The emphasis from the media is now on the tax returns,” Neal said amid the nine-minute session with reporters, “as opposed to some of the substantive problems that accompany many of the other issues as they relate to the American family.”

When a reporter began to ask Neal whether he had a formal timeline for his request, he cut off the question, adding: “You weren’t listening.”

Later asked about potentially drawing a primary challenge from Democrats frustrated with his course of action, Neal lamented talking about a hypothetical.

“I mean, you end up with these moments answering what-if questions,” he said.

At one point, an aide cut in to ask whether reporters had any other questions about the event itself.

“Yeah,” Neal said, “I mean, we just had a serious conversation about tens of thousands of people losing their pensions. There are other issues we might want to consider talking about.”

It prompted a reporter to ask whether that meant he hates that the topic of the president’s tax returns was dominating the line of questioning.

“I wouldn’t say I hate the fact,” Neal said. “I’ve said over and over again that I intend to ask for the forms. And, I mean, it’s so public. Why I would walk away from what I already stated?”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.