In a letter on May 6, Mnuchin said that the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose” as Supreme Court precedent requires, and that the Justice Department is “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”
On April 3, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) formally requested Trump’s tax returns, citing a provision in the tax code that empowers the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to request a president’s tax returns. Neal informed IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in April that failure to comply with the deadline would be viewed as a denial.
In Mnuchin’s letter on May 6, he said that his decision had relied on the advice of the Justice Department.
“As you have recognized, the Committee’s request is unprecedented, and it presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers,” the letter said.
He said the Justice Department will provide a more detailed legal justification soon.
“The Department of Justice has informed us that it intends to memorialize its advice in a published legal opinion as soon as practicable. 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,” the letter read.
Neal responded to Mnuchin’s decision in a statement on May 6. “I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response,” the statement read.
The White House and the president’s attorneys declined to comment on the deadline to turn over Trump’s returns.
“What’s unprecedented is this secretary refusing to comply with our lawful … request. What’s unprecedented is a Justice Department that again sees its role as being bodyguard to the executive and not the rule of law,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) said. “What’s unprecedented is an entire federal government working in concert to shield a corrupt president from legal accountability.”
The Treasury’s denial came the same day that the House Judiciary panel scheduled a May 8 vote on whether to find Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not turning over a fully unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections.
But in a letter to the legal counsel of the Treasury Department, William Consovoy, the president’s attorney, outlined the legal groundwork for why it would be a crime to comply with the request, detailing a battery of court precedents protecting Trump’s right to keep his tax returns private.
Consovoy wrote that Neal’s request for the tax returns flouts “fundamental constitutional constraints,” is driven by an intent to score political points, and would set a dangerous precedent if complied with.
“Ways and Means has no legitimate committee purpose for requesting the president’s tax returns or return information,” Consovoy wrote. “His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech.”
Earlier in April, Trump retweeted video footage that shows Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) saying in an interview, “There’s no law that says they have to be public,” referring to Trump’s tax returns.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday in early April that the topic of Trump’s tax returns has drawn partisan anger from the Democrats, in response to a question about if the party will succeed in obtaining the sitting president’s finances. Mulvaney described the renewed efforts from Democrats as a “political stunt.”
“They know that they are not going to get this, they just want the attention on the issue because they don’t want to talk to us about policy,” he said. “[Trump] could always allow people to see it. That’s not what’s happening here. The Democrats are demanding that the IRS turn over the documents. That is not going to happen, and they know it. This is a political stunt.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House on April 3, Trump didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of providing six years worth of his tax returns.
“Is that all? Usually, it’s 10,” Trump said. “So I guess they’re giving up. We’re under audit, despite what people said, and we’re working that out—I’m always under audit, it seems, but I’ve been under audit for many years, because the numbers are big, and I guess when you have a name, you’re audited. But until such time as I’m not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. With additional reporting by Epoch Times reporters Bowen Xiao, Ivan Pentchoukov.