Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin missed another deadline to hand over Trump’s tax returns on Tuesday, telling the House Ways and Means Committee in a letter that he would inform them of his decision by May 6.
In a 10-page letter sent minutes after the Trump Administration blew a 5 p.m. deadline set by Ways and Means chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) for the tax information, Mnuchin said that he had not “denied or granted” the request and that he would “take final action” on the issue after receiving an opinion from the Justice Department.
Mnuchin wrote in the letter that trust in the IRS “would be eroded if government officials could obtain the tax returns of any person they dislike solely for the sake of exposure, to achieve partisan political aims, or for other impermissible purposes.”
Neal tailored his April 3 request for Trump’s returns around the rationale of verifying that the IRS is impartially auditing the President’s taxes. In the 1970s, a congressional investigation found that Richard Nixon owed nearly $500,000 in back taxes in part because he had received favorable treatment from the IRS.
A 1924 law says that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” the head of the Ways and Means Committee, as well as two others, “with any return or return information” specified in a request.
But Mnuchin accused Neal in his Tuesday letter of issuing the request out of political motivation. He claimed that if such a request were to go forward, “nothing could stop a committee chairman from obtaining the tax returns of any politically disfavored individual – whether it be the head of a civil rights organization, an executive of a major corporation, a political donor, or a local activist.”
“A committee chairman would need only assert, as here, that he wants the returns of a particular individual in order to review the adequacy of the IRS’s process of auditing that individual,” Mnuchin added in the letter.
Mnuchin also asserted a privacy concern, and accused Neal of intending to publicize Trump’s tax information after receiving it. Such a move would require a vote before taking place.
“History demonstrates that private tax return information is susceptible to abuse for partisan purposes – regardless of which party is in power,” the letter reads. “Unless carefully restrained by law, this risk threatens the privacy of all taxpayers.
The last time the House Ways and Means committee publicly invoked the statute — and publicized filers’ tax returns — was in 2014, when the panel voted to release the private information of 51 files as part of Republicans’ ginned up scandal around the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups.
Mnuchin also attached an appendix to the letter that provides a purported “chronology” of the request, which appears to serve as a vehicle for claiming that Neal fabricated a legislative purpose for the ask.
A source familiar with Ways and Means’s thinking told TPM that it would consult on next steps with House counsel before responding.