The Justice Department released an Office of Legal Counsel opinion late Friday afternoon providing an explanation for why it believes that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cannot comply with a House request for President Trump’s tax returns.
“Under the facts and circumstances, the Secretary of the Treasury reasonably and correctly concluded that the Committee’s asserted interest in reviewing the Internal Revenue Service’s audits of presidential returns was pretextual and that its true aim was to make the President’s tax returns public, which is not a legitimate legislative purpose,” reads an introduction to the opinion, written by Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel.
Mnuchin had alluded to the opinion in a May 17 refusal of a subpoena from Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) for Trump’s personal and business tax returns, and during testimony before Congress.
The 33-page legal opinion was sent upon request to Mnuchin, who asked for it to be composed after his subordinate, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, received a request for six years of the President’s taxes.
The OLC holds that Neal made the request in bad faith, and therefore it is illegitimate. The opinion also contends that the request’s stated purpose of examining the IRS’s ability to impartially audit its boss — President Trump — is nothing more than a pretext for publicizing Trump’s taxes, and should therefore be disregarded.
The opinion is addressed to Mnuchin, and appears to cite statements made by the Treasury Secretary.
“As you explained, Treasury was committed to complying with the law, but under the circumstances, it questioned whether the Chairman’s request was lawful,” the opinion reads.
“Under the circumstances, we agreed that it was reasonable to conclude that the Committee’s asserted interest in the IRS’s audit of presidential returns was pretextual, and that the true aim was to make the President’s tax returns public,” the document continues.
As head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Neal is the only Democrat in Congress empowered to demand that the Treasury Secretary provide him with the tax returns of any filer.
He tailored the April 3 request for success in an eventual court battle. That lawsuit has not yet been filed.
Read the opinion below: