‘I have determined that the committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose…’
(Laura Davison and Joe Light, Bloomberg News) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to release President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
The decision—although not unexpected—sets up what could become yet another major legal showdown between the president and a Congress seeking relentlessly to investigate him as the next presidential election approaches.
The refusal of the request from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., for six years of the president’s personal and business returns opens the door for Democrats to pursue additional measures, such as issuing a subpoena or filing a lawsuit.
Mnuchin had put off a firm response for nearly a month, but in a letter Monday officially declined the request. He said the Justice Department would issue a published legal opinion affirming the decision “as soon as practicable.”
“I have determined that the committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” Mnuchin said. “The department may not lawfully fulfill the committee’s request.”
A spokesman for Neal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Democrats, citing a section of the tax code from 1924, say the law is on their side. The law allows the chairs of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees and the Joint Committee on Taxation to request the tax returns of any taxpayer and that the Treasury secretary “shall” provide them.
Neal has said that his committee needs the returns to ensure the IRS is properly following its longstanding policy of auditing the president annually—a reason Mnuchin and other Republicans have said is merely a pretext for exposing Trump’s information.
Democrats want the returns to see if the president has ties to foreign businesses and whether he cheated on his taxes. They also want to see if he benefited from his 2017 tax overhaul.
Trump has said he is worth more than $10 billion. The Bloomberg Billionaire Index pegs his wealth at $2.8 billion.
Neal had initially requested that Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig hand over the returns by April 10.
Mnuchin twice bucked the deadlines that Neal imposed, but said he would make a decision by Monday after consulting with the Justice Department.
The tax return battle is just one front in Trump’s war against Democratic investigations of his conduct.
The move comes as the House has promised to begin partisan contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr over his decision not to pursue charges following the release of the Mueller Report.
Many have also speculated that the Democrats hope to smear and discredit Barr over his announcement that he is presently investigating the corruption within the Hillary Clinton campaign and Obama-era intelligence authorities, which ultimately led to the specious Russian collusion claims that triggered Mueller’s investigation.
Democrats are looking for ways to compel the Trump administration to respond to their inquiries, such as fining officials who deny or ignore subpoenas. There’s even been some talk of jailing members of the administration who stonewall requests, though that is unlikely.
While the Congressional Democrats continue to toe the line between investigating and smearing, worries of a backlash are another factor if they are perceived to be wasting tax-dollars, neglecting legislative duties and unfairly targeting the president for matters that have already been resolved.
As the economy hit a near 50-year peak in employment levels last year, Trump’s approval returned into the 50 percent level, with an equal number saying they opposed impeachment.
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