Donald Trump's former campaign finance chairperson and current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused congressional Democrats' request for the president's tax returns, and he did so in the most lawyerly way possible -- a sternly worded letter.
"I have determined that the Committee's request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose," Mnuchin wrote, "the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information." What else did the letter say?
Returning to Politics
Trump's tax returns have been a political mystery since his campaign, as he became the first major party presidential candidate in over 40 years to not make them public. That has led many to question what President Trump may be hiding, and others to question the authority of the Internal Revenue Service to release anyone's tax returns.
The "Committee" to which Mnuchin was referring is the House Ways and Means Committee, which has claimed the tax returns are necessary for their oversight duties. Ways and Means is one of three congressional committees that has the legal authority to send a written request to the IRS for the president's tax returns, reports NBC News, along with the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation. And Mnuchin's refusal to hand over Trump tax returns is sure to up the legal ante.
Returning to the Law
Mnuchin described the Committee's request as "unprecedented," but that may be because it's somewhat unprecedented for a committee to need to request a president's tax returns in the first place. Many legal experts agree that the request is within Ways and Means power, and that a refusal on Mnuchin's part would be unprecedented. "No request has ever been refused," says journalist and tax law expert David Cay Johnston, and Mnuchin may be risking prison if he fails to disclose the records:
There is, however, a law requiring every federal “employee” who touches the tax system to do their duty or be removed from office. The crystal-clear language of this law applies to Trump, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin and Rettig, federal employees all. The law says all of them "shall" be removed from office if they fail to comply with the request from Representative Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
But Mnuchin says he's relied on his own legal experts: the DOJ. "The Department of Justice has informed us that it intends to memorialize its advice in a published legal opinion as soon as practicable," according to the Treasury Secretary. "Out of respect for the deadlines previously set by the Committee, and consistent with our commitment to a prompt response, I am informing you now that the Department may not lawfully fulfill the Committee's request."
Here's is his full letter to Chairperson Neal:
Secretary Mnuchin Response ... on Scribd