The Treasury Department missed Congress’s second deadline to turn over President Trump’s tax returns, with Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying he wants to make certain lawmakers have the legal right to demand the information.
Mr. Mnuchin said he expects to have a final answer by May 6, after more consultation with administration lawyers.
“The resolution of this issue could set a precedent that will reverberate for years to come … regardless of which party is in power,” Mr. Mnuchin said in a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, the Democrat who issued the demand for the returns.
Mr. Neal had set a first deadline for April 10 and then, after Mr. Mnuchin missed that, reset the deadline for Tuesday.
In a short statement, Mr. Neal acknowledged the secretary’s letter and said he planned to consult with his lawyers about next steps.
Mr. Mnuchin cast doubt on Mr. Neal’s justification for trying to prod the release of the returns, saying the Massachusetts Democrat’s request was part of a “long-running, well-documented effort to expose the president’s tax returns.”
Mr. Neal counters that he wants the information so he can judge whether the IRS is following its own internal rules of auditing presidential tax returns.
Taxpayers’ returns are usually closely guarded by the agency, but Mr. Neal points to a decades-old law that says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” private taxpayer information to the chairmen of Congress’s tax writing committees if they make a request.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Ways and Means member who has long been pushing for the release of the returns, said Tuesday that Mr. Mnuchin is inserting himself and the Justice Department to “bodyguard” the president from “reasonable oversight.”
“This administration’s contempt for rule of law is without peer,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “I stand behind Chairman Neal as he continues the crusade to impose plain oversight on this corrupt administration.”
Mr. Neal had sent a request this month to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig asking for six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, with returns for some of his associated entities, such as a revocable trust in his name.
But Mr. Mnuchin had said in an April 10 letter that the department would not be able to make the deadline, saying his department was consulting with the Justice Department to make sure the response is “fully consistent with the law and the Constitution.”
Mr. Mnuchin also said then that the request raises “serious issues” concerning the “constitutional scope of congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purposes, and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Mr. Neal, in his own response, said the law is “unambiguous” and said the Treasury Department shouldn’t question the motives of the committee. He said if the department missed the April 23 deadline he would interpret it as a “denial” of his request.
But Mr. Mnuchin said in his letter to Mr. Neal on Tuesday that the response should not be interpreted that way.
“The committee’s request has not been denied or granted at this time,” he said. “The department expects to take final action on the committee’s request by May 6, after receiving the Justice Department’s legal conclusions.”
Mr. Trump has bucked decades of tradition as a president — but no law — in refusing to publicize his tax returns.
He cites an ongoing audit as the reason, and his aides at the White House say that still holds true.
“As I understand it, the president is pretty clear. Once he’s out of audit, he’ll think about doing it, but he is not inclined to do so at this time,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday on Fox News. “He’s the president, and no one cares about ridiculous charges about tax returns and all types of other things Democrats are doubling down on today.”
Among those “other things” was a request by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for testimony about the security clearance process at the White House.
Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings had subpoenaed Carl Kline, a former White House security official, to appear, but the White House ordered him not to.
Mr. Cummings bristled at the move Tuesday, saying the White House didn’t assert any valid privilege in its refusal.
On Monday, lawyers for Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization sued Mr. Cummings in federal court to try to block a separate congressional subpoena that seeks financial documents from Mazars USA, a longtime accounting firm for the president’s namesake company.
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