By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican-controlled congressional panel rejected a bid by Democrats on Tuesday to obtain President Donald Trump's tax returns, despite warnings that Trump's business holdings could pose conflicts of interest as Congress turns to tax reform.
At a sometimes fiery 2-1/2-hour hearing that careened from lawmaker concerns over political corruption and national security to privacy rights and tax accounting, the House Ways and Means Committee voted 24-16 along party lines to oppose a Democratic resolution that sought the release of 10 years of Trump's tax returns to the House of Representatives.
While the hearing was under way, House Republicans separately turned back a Democratic attempt to force a floor vote on Trump's tax returns.
Committee Republicans accused Democrats of using the tax-writing committee for political grandstanding. "This resolution is a procedural tool being utilized – and I think, abused – for obvious political purposes," panel Chairman Kevin Brady said.
Democrats said they were exercising proper congressional oversight and accused Republicans of protecting Trump.
Trump has defied decades of precedent by refusing to release his returns, saying his tax affairs are under federal audit. The Internal Revenue Service says audits pose no obstacle to releasing tax returns.
"What is he hiding?" asked Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell, who introduced the measure. "It is our responsibility under the Constitution - very clear, very clear - to provide oversight and root out conflicts of interest."
The rejected measure was part of a Democratic campaign in Congress to force Republicans to confront the issue of Trump's tax returns in hopes of gradually gaining Republican support for their release.
Some Republicans say Trump should release his tax returns. A Ways and Means Republican joined the list on Tuesday. "I wish he would," said Representative Pat Meehan, who otherwise argued against the Democratic resolution.
Trump's critics say the documents would help determine whether Trump's investments and sprawling business empire pose conflicts of interest on policies involving tax, regulation, China, Russia and other issues.
"The president now says he wants to lead the effort on tax reform? His tax returns are directly relevant," said Democratic Representative Sander Levin.
Republicans said the details Democrats seek could be found in the financial disclosure statement Trump has filed as president.
It was the third time the tax panel rejected an effort to obtain Trump's taxes.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Peter Cooney)