The Treasury Department confirmed Friday it would not comply with a congressional subpoena for the President’s personal and business tax returns, setting the stage for a high-profile court battle.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wrote in a Friday letter that the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” basing his conclusion upon an as-of-yet unreleased legal opinion from the Department of Justice.
House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) said in a statement that “issuance of these subpoenas should not have been necessary.”
“The law, by its terms, does not allow for discretion as to whether to comply with a request for tax returns and return information,” he added.
Neal said on CNN on Friday that he expected to file a lawsuit to obtain the information as early as next week, should Treasury miss the deadline as expected.
“I anticipate they won’t meet that deadline, and the result will be that we will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week,” Neal said. The Ways and Means chair issued a subpoena for six years of Trump’s returns last week, following more than a month of delays from Mnuchin.
Since House Democrats took the majority in January, Neal has moved cautiously in his quest to obtain the President’s tax returns, specifically tailoring each step of the process for the prospect of a lawsuit.
As chair of the Ways and Means committee, Neal is empowered to demand the returns of any filer under a 1924 statute. The same law mandates the Treasury Secretary “to furnish” the returns upon request.
But few expected Mnuchin, whose boss is the first president in 40 years to be elected without disclosing his returns, to comply with the demand.
Going forward, courts will likely consider whether Neal made the request with a legitimate legislative purpose in mind.
The Ways and Means Committee has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that he has done so. He tailored the request itself to focus on investigating whether the IRS is auditing President Trump’s taxes in an impartial fashion, notwithstanding the conflict of interest inherent in having the tax authority audit its boss.
Even before issuing the request, Neal took pains to establish that he was not issuing the request in the heat of the moment or out of emotion, but rather in line with House Democrats’ legislative and oversight priorities that aren’t directly tied to Trump himself.
That caution led to complaints from some lawmakers on the Ways and Means committee and from outside activists that Neal was taking too long in pursuing the documents. Critics suggested that Republicans were unlikely to respond in good faith and more likely to employ a strategy of delaying on the request as long as possible.
Read Mnuchin’s letter below.