WASHINGTON — An attorney representing President Trump argued Friday that a request for the president’s tax returns “would set a dangerous precedent” if granted and that the Internal Revenue Service cannot legally divulge the information.

Rep. Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has formally asked the IRS to provide six years of Trump’s personal tax returns and the returns for some of his businesses. Democrats are seeking information about Trump’s financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest.

Richard Neal

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has formally requested President Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

But William Consovoy, whose firm was retained by Trump to represent him on the matter, said in a letter to the Department of Treasury’s general counsel that the tax code zealously guards taxpayer privacy. He said requests for tax returns “must have a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Consovoy said that Neal’s request for Trump’s tax information is to damage him politically.

“His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech,” Consovoy said.

Neal requested Trump’s personal and business returns in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. He asked for returns covering 2013 through 2018. He also asked for the documents in seven days, setting an April 10 deadline.

Trump declined to provide his tax information as a candidate and as president, something party nominees have traditionally done in the name of the transparency. But Trump has said he won’t release the information because he is under audit, something he reiterated again Friday while visiting the U.S-Mexico border.

“I’m under audit. When you’re under audit you don’t do it,” Trump said.

IRS officials have said taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns. Trump claimed at a news conference following his election in November 2018 that the filings are too complex for people to understand.

Consovoy outlined his concerns in a four-page letter to the Treasury Department. The IRS is a part of that department. He asked that the IRS also consult with the Justice Department before releasing any tax information, saying “caution and deliberation are essential to ensure that the Treasury Department does not erode the constitutional separation of powers or the tax code’s core purpose of protecting taxpayer privacy.”

Neal is one of only three congressional officials authorized to make a written request to the Treasury secretary for anyone’s tax returns. He said the IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice presidents, “yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program.”

“On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately,” Neal said when unveiling his request for Trump’s returns.