IRS blows deadline to hand over Trump tax returns – POLITICO
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin left little doubt Tuesday that the administration will reject a congressional request for President Donald Trump’s tax returns by a self-imposed May 6 target for a “final decision,” setting the stage for a legal battle that will test the limits of congressional oversight.
In a 10-page letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who formally requested Trump’s returns on April 3, Mnuchin questioned Neal’s motives and laid out “some of the legal concerns” the administration has with the request. While Neal has argued that the committee needs to see the returns as part of its oversight of the IRS, Mnuchin wrote that is a “pretext” for the Democrats’ aim to make Trump’s returns public, which Mnuchin called “constitutionally suspect.”
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Neal, who had set a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for the IRS to turn over the documents, said in a statement that he plans to “consult with counsel about my next steps.” He is likely to subpoena the documents at some point and, given the administration’s resistance to subpoenas issued or threatened by other committees, the dispute is expected to wind up in court.
Mnuchin’s letter reads like a legal brief in many places. It includes two appendices and nearly three dozen footnotes, mostly citing media reports about the dispute and press releases from Democrats, along with transcripts of statements they made, about plans to publicly disclose Trump’s tax returns. It reinforces assumptions that the administration will challenge the request on grounds that Neal has no legitimate legislative or policy purpose for seeking them.
Neal is invoking a law that allows the chairs of the two congressional committees with tax jurisdiction to examine anyone’s tax returns. Ways and Means needs to be able to vet IRS audits of the president, he has said, though Democrats also make no secret of their desire to examine Trump’s returns for evidence of possible financial malfeasance and other wrongdoing.
In an April 13 letter to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, Neal said the request for Trump’s returns “falls squarely within the Committee’s oversight authority.” He cited 10 judicial precedents on the matter and said that the Supreme Court has time and again reaffirmed the legislative branch’s role.
The Trump administration has now missed two deadlines set by Neal for turning over the returns. Mnuchin told Neal on the first deadline day two weeks ago that Treasury needed more time to examine the issue and was consulting with the Justice Department. Neal then reupped his request.
He could write yet another letter threatening to use any and all powers available to him to get the administration to comply, followed by a subpoena for Trump’s returns. Several administration officials, and Trump himself, have said Congress won’t get the documents.
Frustration is building within the House Democratic caucus. On Monday, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said House Democrats should consider impeaching Rettig. Though Neal’s requests for the returns have gone directly to the IRS commissioner, Mnuchin has taken the lead on the issue, which Democrats say is a violation of normal procedure.
Rettig sent a separate letter to Neal on Tuesday saying the Justice Department’s examination of the issue is “beyond the scope of internal revenue laws.”
“Accordingly, we have not made a final determination on how to respond to your request and are awaiting further guidance and direction … before doing so,” Rettig wrote.
Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley indicated that the administration would reject the request for Trump’s returns, repeating the president’s claim that he’s being audited by the IRS as the reason he won’t release them.
“As I understand it, the president’s pretty clear: Once he’s out of audit, he’ll think about doing it, but he’s not inclined to do so at this time,” Gidley told Fox News.
“It’s already been litigated in the court of public opinion and in the election. The president won it fairly and squarely,” he said. “He’s the president, and no one cares about ridiculous charges about tax returns and all types of other things Democrats are doubling down on today.”
If the administration ultimately rejects the request for Trump’s returns, as expected, Neal plans to build a court case against the decision as a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that governs the actions of federal regulatory agencies like the IRS and that has been successfully deployed in other cases against the Trump administration.
Neal isn’t the only committee chairman the administration is defying.
Trump is suing House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to block a subpoena of Trump’s financial records from an accounting firm, Mazars USA. Cummings wants the bank records to investigate allegations that Trump falsely inflated and deflated asset values to benefit himself, but the president’s lawyers have said House Democrats are abusing their power to try to embarrass Trump.
Victoria Guida contributed to this report.