U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not violate the law by refusing to provide President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress because the confidentiality of returns is protected under the law, the Justice Department said in a legal opinion released on Friday.
Federal law “protecting confidentiality of tax returns prohibited the Department of the Treasury from complying with a request by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee for the president’s tax returns,” a department official said in the opinion provided to the Treasury Department.
The memorandum from Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, who heads the Office of Legal Counsel, supports the position already taken by the Treasury Department. It is likely to draw fire from Democrats in Congress who have argued the legal reasoning is misguided.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal had issued a subpoena demanding the administration turn over six years of Trump’s returns. He has said he is likely to try to enforce the subpoena by going to court.
The administration has been refusing to cooperate with a number of congressional probes of Trump, his family and his presidency, with the fight over his tax returns just one example.
“While the Executive Branch should accord due deference and respect to congressional requests, Treasury was not obliged to accept the committee’s stated purpose without question, and based on all the facts and circumstances, we agreed that the committee lacked a legitimate legislative purpose for its request,” Engel wrote.
“This is a pretty aggressive argument from DOJ, basically saying that Congress is lying about its purpose for wanting the president’s tax returns and that as a result, the IRS need not provide them even though the statute doesn’t require Congress to have *any* reason,” USA Today reporter Brad Heath Said.
This is a pretty aggressive argument from DOJ, basically saying that Congress is lying about its purpose for wanting the president’s tax returns and that as a result, the IRS need not provide them even though the statute doesn’t require Congress to have *any* reason. pic.twitter.com/u4xzzz5pPN
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) June 14, 2019
Should Trump’s taxes stay private?
“DOJ has issued an opinion backing up Treasury’s decision to refuse to provide Trump’s tax returns to Congress.
“The main argument? Congress is using pretextual reasons to get them when they really just want to simply make the returns public,” Politico reporter Kyle Cheney said.
JUST IN: DOJ has issued an opinion backing up Treasury’s decision to refuse to provide Trump’s tax returns to Congress.
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) June 14, 2019Share this Article with your Friends and Family
“Tee up the next big political fight for Congressional oversight of Trump: The DOJ has announced that the IRS does not have to give his tax returns to Congress,” The Daily Beast reported.
Tee up the next big political fight for Congressional oversight of Trump: The DOJ has announced that the IRS does not have to give his tax returns to Congress https://t.co/ZaWjMWh7Xj
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) June 14, 2019
Moreover, the Justice Department accused the House Ways and Means Committee of overstepping simply by requesting the tax returns.
Chairman Rep. Richard Neal’s request “that Treasury turn over the President’s tax returns, for the apparent purpose of making them public, amounted to an unprecedented use of the Committee’s authority and raised a serious risk of abuse,” the opinion argued.
It’s an unsurprising setback to Congressional efforts to get some of the most-discussed confidential documents in American public life: Trump’s tax returns. The president broke from decades-long precedent in 2016 when he refused to release his tax returns as a candidate. He claimed it was because the IRS was auditing him–an assertion that doesn’t hold water, as any audit wouldn’t have precluded the release of his tax documents.
When Democrats took control of the House in 2018, they promised an oversight onslaught directed at the White House. Top on their list: the tax returns. So on April 3, Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal asked the IRS to fork over the records. Today’s OLC opinion is a line in the sand: no tax returns without a legal fight.