Mnuchin denies Democrats' request for Trump tax returns

By Andrew Taylor and Jonathan Lemire

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made it official: The administration won't be turning President Donald Trump's tax returns over to the Democratic-controlled House.

Mnuchin told Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., in a Monday letter that the panel's request "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose" as Supreme Court precedent requires.

In making that determination, Mnuchin said he relied on the advice of the Justice Department. He concluded that the Treasury Department is "not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information."

9 PHOTOS
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
See Gallery
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Steven Mnuchin, President-elect Trump's nominee for Treasury secretary, testifies during his Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 19, 2017.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin sits with Vanessa Trump (R), wife of Donald Trump Jr, before a swearing-in ceremony for senior staff at the White House in Washington, DC January 22, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Incoming Trump administration Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin departs after working a simulated crisis scenario during transition meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Producer Steve Bing (L) and Honoree Steven Mnuchin recipient of the Philanthropic Leadership Award attend The Kaleidoscope Ball - Designing The Future benefitting the UCLA Children's Discovery and Innovation Institute at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA at Beverly Hills Hotel on April 17, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for BWR)

Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, right, attends a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a hallmark of our democracy.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

 Steve Mnuchin and Lousie Linton arrive at the Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Jupiter Ascending' at TCL Chinese Theatre on February 2, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Heather Mnuchin and Steve Mnuchin attend The Art Show Gala to Benefit The Henry Street Settlement at The Seventh Regiment Armory on February 23, 2005 in New York City.

(Photo by Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin attends the inaugural parade of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, January 20, 2017. Donald Trump was sworn in earlier as the 45th President of the United States.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Donald Trumps' Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The move, which was expected, is sure to set in motion a legal battle over Trump's tax returns. The chief options available to Democrats are to subpoena the IRS for the returns or to file a lawsuit. Last week, Neal promised "we'll be ready" to act soon after Monday's deadline.

"I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response," Neal said in a statement Monday.

Neal originally demanded access to Trump's tax returns in early April under a law that says the IRS "shall furnish" the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers, including the chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. He maintains that the committee is looking into the effectiveness of IRS mandatory audits of tax returns of all sitting presidents, a way to justify his claim that the panel has a potential legislative purpose. Democrats are confident in their legal justification and say Trump is stalling in an attempt to punt the issue past the 2020 election.

The White House and the president's attorneys declined to comment on the deadline to turn over Trump's returns.

Mnuchin has said Neal's request would potentially weaponize private tax returns for political purposes.

Trump has privately made clear he has no intention of turning over the much-coveted records. He is the first president since Watergate to decline to make his tax returns public, often claiming that he would release them if he was not under audit.

"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," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. "What's unprecedented is an entire federal government working in concert to shield a corrupt President from legal accountability."

But the president has told those close to him that the attempt to get his returns was an invasion of his privacy and a further example of what he calls the Democrat-led "witch hunt" — like special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe — meant to damage him.

Trump has repeatedly asked aides as to the status of the House request and has not signaled a willing to cooperate with Democrats, according to a White House official and two Republicans close to the White House.

He has linked the effort to the myriad House probes into his administration and has urged his team to stonewall all requests. He also has inquired about the "loyalty" of the top officials at the IRS, according to one of his advisers.

Trump has long told confidants that he was under audit and therefore could not release his taxes. But in recent weeks, he has added to the argument, telling advisers that the American people elected him once without seeing his taxes and would do so again, according to the three White House officials and Republicans, who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations and requested anonymity.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.