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Mnuchin won't turn over Trump's tax returns, setting up court fight

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during an appearance Wednesday

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during an appearance Wednesday at a Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill. Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday refused to turn over President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns, rejecting a subpoena from the House tax-writing committee and setting up a battle in court.

Citing advice from the Justice Department, Mnuchin said in a letter sent Friday to the House Ways and Means Committee that his agency is “not authorized” to turn over the requested six years of tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the committee chairman, initially asked for the returns on April 3 and, after being turned down, issued a subpoena a week ago that gave Mnuchin and IRS Director Charles Rettig until 5 p.m. Friday to submit Trump’s tax filings to Congress.

“The law provides clear statutory authority for the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee to request and receive access to tax returns and return information. The law, by its terms, does not allow for discretion as to whether to comply with a request for tax returns and return information,” Neal said in a statement Friday.

“Given the Treasury Secretary’s failure to comply today, I am consulting with counsel on how best to enforce the subpoenas moving forward,” Neal said.

Neal requested Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law, passed after the Harding administration Teapot Dome scandal involving payoffs and graft, that allows lawmakers to request tax returns and requires the taxpayer to submit them.

Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), the Senate Finance Committee's top Democrat, in a statement said, “Secretary Mnuchin’s refusal to follow the law rests on a hidden opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel. Given Attorney General Barr’s track record of providing President Trump’s personal legal defense, it’s critical that Congress immediately review the justification behind this unprecedented action.” 

Wyden added, “The Trump administration views itself as above the law, and the House of Representatives should take swift legal action to force the administration to comply with Chairman Neal’s request for President Trump’s tax returns.”

Neal did not indicate what his next step will be but the committee is expected to go to court to enforce the subpoena. Neal also could seek to have his Democratic majority on the committee pass a resolution to hold the Treasury secretary in contempt of Congress.

Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to refuse to make his tax returns public, breaking decades of precedent, an act he justifies regularly when asked about it by saying the IRS is auditing his taxes.

The monthly Harvard/Harris Poll for April found that 55 percent of those surveyed thought the committee’s subpoena was a legitimate request and 45 percent thought it was a fishing expedition.

Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena fits into the Trump administration’s broader battle with House Democrats over their aggressive investigations into Trump and his administration.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted to send a resolution to the full House to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after he refused to turn over the entire unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are discussing also voting to hold Barr in contempt for rejecting their subpoena for the complete Mueller report.

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