Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that he would be breaking the law if he released President Trump’s tax returns to Congress.

Mr. Mnuchin said he feels he’s on firm legal ground in his decision to defy a subpoena issued by the House Ways and Means Committee demanding six years of tax records from Mr. Trump and some of his associated businesses.

“I have been advised I am not violating the law,” the secretary said. “I have been advised that had I turned them over I would be violating the law.”

Democrats are furious at the Treasury Department and IRS, saying the law clearly gives chairmen of several committees, including Ways and Means, the power to demand anyone’s tax returns. The law says the department “shall” provide them.

Mr. Mnuchin, though, says court decisions have circumscribed Congress’s investigative powers, limiting them to areas where there’s a legitimate legislative purpose.

He says there isn’t one in the demand to see the president’s taxes.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal says he wants to see the president’s records so he can determine whether the IRS is following through on its own guidelines that call for the president’s taxes to be audited every year.

Mr. Mnuchin has said he’s willing to brief the committee on those guidelines and the IRS’s compliance, but says that can be done without turning over a taxpayer’s private information.

Both sides appear headed for court.

A court ruling in another case this week gave Mr. Neal a boost. In that case, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled that Congress has broad latitude to decide what it wants to investigate.

Democrats at the committee hearing Wednesday grilled Mr. Mnuchin over an IRS legal memo, first reported by The Washington Post, that suggested the IRS was constrained in its discretion to thwart Mr. Neal’s request.

Mr. Mnuchin said he never saw the memo and is trying to find out who wrote it.

But he said it doesn’t match the legal advice he got from his own lawyers and from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“The memo was marked draft. It was not a final memo. But I don’t know how it got to the Washington Post. It would have been more interesting if it had gotten to me or the commissioner to review,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

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