US House tax committee will not seek Trump tax returns
HERSHEY, PA - DECEMBER 15, 2016: President-Elect Donald Trump speaks of his relief to have won the state of Texas on Election night during his speech at the "Thank You Tour" rally at the Giant Center (Shutterstock).

A congressional tax oversight committee will not seek U.S. President Donald Trump's tax returns despite calls from Democrats for a review to determine possible business ties to foreign countries including Russia, the panel's Republican chairman said on Monday.

"If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans?" House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters.

"Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and (the) Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them."

The Texas Republican was responding to questions about a Feb. 1 letter from Representative Bill Pascrell, a Ways and Means Democrat who asked Brady to obtain Trump's returns from the U.S. Treasury so the committee could review them in closed session and vote on whether to release them to the public.

Pascrell's office had no immediate response to Brady's remarks.

Defying decades of precedent, Trump has long refused to release the documents, which Democrats say could show whether his sprawling business empire poses any conflicts of interest as he moves forward with initiatives on issues ranging from tax reform to foreign relations.

Experts say federal law authorizes the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation to examine individual returns.

The two other panels are headed by Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who dismissed the idea of seeking Trump's returns last week.

House Republicans contend that the authority to examine tax returns was meant to ensure the proper administration of the tax code. Brady said his panel was doing just that in 2014, when it released confidential tax data during a probe of IRS treatment of conservative group applications for nonprofit status.

In his letter, Pascrell said Trump's business empire involves state-owned enterprises in China and the United Arab Emirates as well as interests stretching from Russia and Saudi Arabia to Taiwan and the Philippines.

"It is imperative for the public to know and understand his ... financial positions in domestic and foreign companies, and his self-reported net worth of more than $10 billion," the New Jersey Democrat wrote.

Brady said the letter misrepresented the law's intent to promote confidentiality and privacy.

"I've read his letter and I disagree with all of it," the chairman said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Beech and Andrew Hay)