The Treasury Department informed Congress on Monday that it will not turn over President Trump’s tax returns by a chairman’s deadline, leaving Democrats stewing and pondering their next step.
Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the demand for the president’s returns was illegitimate and illegal so he wouldn’t comply.
“The committee’s request is unprecedented, and it presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers,” Mr. Mnuchin wrote to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, Massachusetts Democrat.
“I am informing you now that the department may not lawfully fulfill the committee’s request,” he said.
Mr. Neal was measured in his reaction to the rejection.
“I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response,” the chairman said.
Other Democrats on the panel were less restrained.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, called Mr. Munchin’s letter absurd.
“If these guys think they can outlast us with these tactics, they’re dead wrong. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.
The Treasury Department issued its refusal just hours after the Justice Department missed a deadline imposed by another congressional committee for an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on President Trump.
Democrats see the refusals as obstruction, and the president says he is fed up with fishing expeditions into his doings and will stonewall.
The IRS tax returns issue dates back well before he was in office.
Mr. Trump bucked decades of tradition, though no law, by refusing to divulge his tax returns as a presidential candidate and then in office.
The president says he is under audit and that his accountants have told him he would be foolish to reveal his returns.
Legal analysts say, however, that there is no prohibition on revealing tax returns that are under audit.
Congressional Democrats agitated for the president’s tax documents. When they took control of the House this year, they gained the power to demand to see the information under section 6103 of the tax code, which gives chairs of certain committees power to request returns.
The law suggests a broad power, but the White House and many legal analysts say the power is constrained. Congress must be engaged in legitimate oversight for the purpose of lawmaking, according to several legal briefs.
To that end, Mr. Neal has taken pains to say he wants to see the president’s tax returns to review whether the IRS is auditing the president, as is called for under IRS policy.
Other Democrats, such as Mr. Pascrell, have made clear that their motives are less about IRS operations than they are an effort to get a look at what the president is shielding.
In particular, they have predicted embarrassing tidbits hidden in the president’s returns.
Mr. Neal said that is not what he is pursuing and that the president’s team cannot peek behind his own stated motives to search for reasons not to comply.
Mr. Mnuchin said he would be happy to provide a briefing to discuss IRS policies regarding audits, without divulging the president’s information.
Barring that, though, he said he didn’t see any “legitimate legislative purpose” and therefore doesn’t have to play along.
He said the Justice Department agreed with him and would be producing a written opinion on the matter “as soon as practicable,” but it couldn’t be completed in time to meet Mr. Neal’s Monday deadline.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, backed Mr. Mnuchin’s decision, saying he was right to resist Democrats’ attempt “to weaponize the tax code for purely political reasons.”
“This politically motivated abuse of the law violates our Constitution – and serves no legislative purpose,” he said.
Mr. Neal had demanded six years of returns for Mr. Trump, his revocable trust and a number of his business interests, including his New Jersey golf club.
Mr. Neal also asked for details of any previous or current audits, the reasons for any audits, and their current status.
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