Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, rejects Democrats’ demand for Donald Trump tax returns

May 6, 2019

The Treasury Department informed Congress Monday it will not turn over President Trump’s tax returns by a chairman’s deadline, leaving Democrats stewing and pondering their next step.

Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the demand for the president’s returns was both illegitimate and illegal, so he wouldn’t comply.

“The committee’s request is unprecedented and it presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers,” Mr. Mnuchin wrote to Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal.

“I am informing you now that the department may not lawfully fulfill the committee’s request,” he added.

Mr. Neal was measured in his reaction to the rejection.

“I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response,” the chairman said.

His colleagues were less restrained.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat, called Mr. Munchin’s letter “absurd.”

“If these guys think they can outlast us with these tactics, they’re dead wrong. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

The Treasury Department’s refusal came just hours after the Justice Department missed a deadline imposed by another congressional committee for an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on President Trump.

Democrats see the refusals as obstruction, while the president says he’s fed up with fishing expeditions into his doings, and he’s going to stonewall.

The IRS tax returns issue dates back well before he was in office.

Mr. Trump bucked decades of tradition though no law in refusing to divulge his tax returns, first as a presidential candidate and then later in office.

The president says he’s under audit and says his accountants have told him he would be foolish to reveal his returns.

Legal experts say there’s no prohibition on him, however.

Congressional Democrats agitated for the release, and when they took control of the House earlier this year they gained the power to demand to see the information under section 6103 of the tax code, which gives chairmen of certain committees power to request returns.

The law suggests a broad power, but the White House and many legal analysts say in fact the power is constrained. Congress must be engaged in legitimate oversight for the purpose of lawmaking, according to several legal briefs.

To that end, Mr. Neal has taken pains to say he wants to see the president’s tax returns to review whether the IRS is auditing the president, as IRS policy calls for.

Other Democrats, such as Mr. Pascrell, have made clear their motives are less about IRS operations than they are an effort to get a look at what the president is shielding.

In particular, they have predicted embarrassing tidbits hidden in the president’s returns.

Mr. Neal says that’s not what he’s after, and he says the president’s team cannot peek behind his own stated motives to search for reasons not to comply.

Mr. Mnuchin said he would be happy to provide a briefing to discuss IRS policies regarding audits, without divulging the president’s information.

Barring that, though, he said he didn’t see any “legitimate legislative purpose,” so he doesn’t have to play along.

He said the Justice Department agreed with him, and would be producing a written opinion on the matter “as soon as practicable,” but it couldn’t be done in time to meet Mr. Neal’s Monday deadline.

Mr. Neal had demanded six years of returns for Mr. Trump, his revocable trust and a number of his business interests, including his New Jersey golf club.

Mr. Neal also asked for details of any previous or current audits, the reasons for any audits, and their current status.