Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham says the president should release his tax returns after Democrats make a formal request

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham says "everybody" running for president in 2020 should publicly release their tax returns, including President Donald Trump.
  • House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., says he formally submitted a request to the Treasury Department for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns.
  • Neal's request is expected to trigger a protracted battle with the Trump administration, whose officials have signaled their unwillingness to hand over the president's financial documents.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that "everybody" running for president in 2020 should publicly release their tax returns — including President Donald Trump.

The senior GOP senator from South Carolina weighed in just hours after House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said he had formally submitted a request to the Treasury Department for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns.

"I think you should release your tax returns if you're running for president in 2020," Graham told reporters.

"I think everybody should," Graham added. "That's just my view, it'd be good for the country."

A spokesman for the senator confirmed to CNBC that Graham believes Trump should release his tax returns.

Graham has established himself as one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill. But his stance that presidential candidates ought to disclose their tax information puts some distance between him and the president, who has refused to release his returns before or after the 2016 election.

Neal's request to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig is expected to trigger a protracted battle with the Trump administration, whose officials have also signaled their unwillingness to hand over the president's financial documents.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a Ways and Means hearing last month that he would protect Trump "as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights" if the request for his returns was made.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a Fox News interview Thursday that Trump "doesn't have any intention to release those returns," saying that the president's taxes "continue to be under audit."

Asked about Graham's remarks, Sanders told CNBC that the White House has "nothing else to add at this time."

As a presidential candidate, Trump broke with the tradition widely followed since Richard Nixon by refusing to release his tax returns. Trump had promised to release the documents following the completion of an audit, although fact-checkers say that he could still release the returns whether or not he is being audited.

Two days after his inauguration, senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said Trump is "not going to release his tax returns" because "people didn't care." More recently, Trump insisted that his returns are too complex for people to understand.

When asked at the White House about the request for six years of his tax returns, Trump said, "Is that all? Usually it's 10, so I guess they're giving up," Trump said

He also referred to an ongoing audit as a reason not to release his returns.

"I'm always under audit, it seems," he said. "Until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that."

A handful of Democrats running for president in 2020 have already released years of their returns. They include New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.