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Secret IRS Legal Memo Undercuts Mnuchin On Trump Tax Returns

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Secretary Steve Mnuchin must comply with the House Ways and Means Committee’s request to turn over President Donald Trump’s tax returns, according to a secret draft IRS memo obtained by the Washington Post, unless executive privilege is invoked.

The reported memo demolished Mnuchin and the administration’s arguments for denying the Congressional request, which was made formally by committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA).

The Post explained:

The 10-page document says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason that Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.

“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee … to state a reason for the request,” it says. It adds that the “only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

The memo is the first sign of potential dissent within the administration over its approach to the tax returns issue. The IRS said the memo, titled “Congressional Access to Returns and Return Information,” was a draft document authored by a lawyer in the Office of Chief Counsel and did not represent the agency’s “official position.” The memo is stamped “DRAFT,” it is not signed, and it doesn’t reference Trump.

However, this is exactly what Mnuchin is trying to do. He has said that because Congress does not have a legitimate reason to have Trump’s taxes, he cannot turn over the documents to Neal. He has even consulted with the Justice Department, which he said supported his declination, but no formal opinion has been issued from the DOJ defending the administration’s position. And there’s no reason Mnuchin needed to consult the DOJ at all — the Treasury Department has its own legal counsel that can assess the legality of its actions, as the memo obtained by the Post makes clear.

A plain reading of the law in question is on the side of the confidential IRS memo and not Mnuchin’s stated position. The law is clear that if the Neal requests any individual’s tax returns from the IRS, the secretary “shall” hand them over — unambiguously and with no caveats. There’s no wiggle room for Mnuchin to assess the merits of Congress’s requests — and even if there were, it is obviously within the legislature’s oversight functions to review the president’s financial records (which, as it happens, all previous presidents since Richard Nixon have voluntarily released).

Even the confidential memo seems to give too much credence to Trump’s position, though. It seems unlikely that the courts would agree that executive privilege could effectively conceal the president’s tax returns — or anyone else’s, for that matter. The memo acknowledged the weakness of this argument, as the Post noted:

Executive privilege is generally defined as the president’s ability to deny requests for information about internal administration talks and deliberations.

“One potential basis” for refusing the returns, the memo states, would be if the administration invoked the doctrine of executive privilege.

But the IRS memo notes that executive privilege is most often invoked to protect information, such as opinions and recommendations, submitted as part of formulating policies and decisions. It even says the law “might be read to preclude a claim of executive privilege,” meaning the law could be interpreted as saying executive privilege cannot be invoked to deny a subpoena.

Mnuchin Defies Subpoena To Hide Trump’s Taxes From Congress

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ignored a subpoena and broke the law by not handing over Trump’s taxes to Congress by a Friday afternoon deadline.

And the next step is likely to be federal court, according to Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

In a letter sent to Neal just before the 5 p.m. deadline, Mnuchin made the unsubstantiated claim that Neal’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” and said that after consultation with the Department of Justice, he is once again refusing to comply with Congress.

“I anticipate that they won’t meet that deadline, and the result will be that we will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week,” Neal told reporters a few hours before Mnuchin sent his letter.

“Secretary Mnuchin is violating a legitimate Congressional request under an unambiguous law,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, told Shareblue Media on Friday after Mnuchin sent the letter. “Ignoring Congress and the law to protect the President is not the Treasury Secretary’s job.”

“Now it is time to consider next steps, including legal action,” Chu added.

Despite repeated promises to release his taxes during the 2016 campaign, Trump went back on his word, defying a decades-long norm followed by presidents of both parties. Neal demanded six years’ worth of Trump’s personal and business taxes from the IRS in April, using a provision in the law that requires the Treasury Department to hand them over.

After considerable delay, Mnuchin refused to comply, thus breaking the law.

“A reading of the plain language of the tax code indicates that Congress does in fact have the legal authority to request and obtain tax information from any filer, including the president,” Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor, told Vox in April. “Therefore, if Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, refuses Congress’s request, he would be violating the law.”

Even after Mnuchin broke the law once, Neal provided him yet another opportunity to make things right by issuing a subpoena on May 10 demanding the same information.

With his letter, Mnuchin once again defied both Congress and the law in order to keep whatever Trump is hiding away from public view.

It is unclear what, exactly, Trump is so desperate to hide from Congress. Ten years of Trump’s tax information from the mid-1980s through the early 90s were recently reviewed by the New York Times, showing Trump was such a bad businessman that he lost a billion dollars in a decade. It is also possible that Trump’s taxes and other financial documents could show problematic ties with foreign entities in countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Advocates for transparency and accountability spoke out Friday to blast Mnuchin’s decision to cover for Trump.

“It is unconscionable for our country to have a Treasury Secretary who repeatedly shows us that he will continue to obstruct justice at every turn in order to do Trump’s bidding,” Maura Quint, executive director of the Tax March, said in a statement.

“Compliance was not optional,” Ryan Thomas, spokesperson for Stand Up America, said in a statement. “By willfully failing to meet this deadline, Secretary Mnuchin has made a mockery of Congress and the Constitution that empowers the legislative branch to conduct oversight of the executive branch.” Thomas went on to call for Neal to immediately take Mnuchin to court.

Neal had the option to hold Mnuchin in contempt of Congress, but is leaning toward just heading straight to federal court instead.

“I don’t see that right now as an option,” Neal said of the contempt approach on Friday before the deadline. “I think the better option for us is to proceed to the court case.”

If the courts stay true to the law, Trump could soon be forced to hand over his taxes to Congress — which would then be able to see whatever secrets he has tried so hard to hide.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

House Ways And Means Committee Subpoenas Trump Taxes

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

After Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin repeatedly refused to comply with requests to hand over President Donald Trump’s tax returns—which some legal experts say is clearly required under federal law—the House Ways and Means Committee late Friday subpoenaed both Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for the documents.

“The IRS is under a mandatory obligation to provide the information requested,” states the subpoena. “The IRS has had more than four weeks to comply with the committee’s straightforward request. Therefore, please see the enclosed subpoena.”

Stand Up America, a progressive advocacy group that has been pressuring House Democrats to subpoena Trump’s tax returns, applauded House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) for taking action Friday night after the White House “illegally blocked” his initial request.

“The American people deserve the truth about Trump’s deeply concerning conflicts of interest and his profiting from the presidency—and Congress is one step closer to delivering those answers,” Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge said in a statement.

“Compliance is not optional,” Eldridge added. “If Secretary Mnuchin fails to comply with these subpoenas, Chairman Neal has no option but to hold him in contempt of Congress and take them to court.”

Trump has vowed to fight all subpoenas issued by congressional Democrats.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller Report and all underlying evidence.

In the face of the Trump White House’s refusal to comply with congressional oversight efforts, progressives have urged Democrats to begin sending administration officials to jail.

IMAGE: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA).

Ignoring Law, Mnuchin Won’t Release Trump Taxes To Congress

On Monday afternoon, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin officially informed Congress that he would not turn over six years of Trump’s tax returns — opting to protect Trump’s shady finances rather than uphold the rule of law.

“In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” Mnuchin wrote. After making this determination, Mnuchin then said that the Treasury Department is “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to the IRS last month demanding six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Neal cited a 1920s-era law allowing Congress obtain any person’s tax returns from the IRS, so long as the request comes from the chair of either the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee.

The law is clear, stating, “the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified.”

According to legal experts, Mnuchin is breaking the law.

“A reading of the plain language of the tax code indicates that Congress does in fact have the legal authority to request and obtain tax information from any filer, including the president,” Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School, told Vox in April. “Therefore, if Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, refuses Congress’s request, he would be violating the law.”

In early April, Mnuchin hinted that he was willing to ignore the law to cover up Trump’s possible misdeeds. In an April 10 letter to Neal, Mnuchin said that the request “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

Legal scholars disagree with Mnuchin’s excuse.

“This is not an issue on which there is any possibility of reasonable disagreement,” Daniel Shaviro, a law professor at New York University, told Vox in mid-April. “Any well-informed person who disagrees either that the Ways and Means Committee has an obligation to demand Trump’s tax returns as part of fulfilling its oversight duties or that Trump is legally obliged to turn them over is either a partisan hack or contemptuous of the rule of law.”

Neal said Monday that he would consult with counsel to determine an appropriate response. It’s possible he could issue a subpoena for Trump’s taxes, or take Treasury to court in order to force Mnuchin to hand them over.

Trump is the first presidential candidate in decades to refuse to make his tax returns publicly available. When he entered the campaign, Trump promised on multiple occasions to release his taxes. But he lied.

What is Mnuchin helping Trump hide from the public? Possibly a lot.

In congressional testimony, Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer,” said Trump regularly lied about his wealth in order to obtain loans. Cohen also said Trump lied about his wealth to avoid paying taxes.

In response to questions from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cohen suggested Congress would need Trump’s tax returns to see whether and how often Trump broke the law.

Americans deserve to know this information about Trump — and Congress has the legal authority to find out.

Published with permission of The American Independent.