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Report: Mnuchin Delayed Harriet Tubman $20 Bill To Avoid Offending Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

In May, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the redesign of the $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman would not be unveiled in 2020 as previously announced. The delay, Mnuchin said, was due to security concerns and technical reasons. But the New York Times’ Alan Rappeport reports that according to Treasury Department officials, Mnuchin delayed the Tubman redesign to “avoid the possibility” that President Donald Trump “would cancel the plan outright and create even more controversy.”

Mnuchin, according to the Times, seems to believe that the president is so opposed to adding an image of Tubman to the $20 bill that he feared Trump might terminate the project altogether. And by delaying it, Mnuchin at least left open the possibility of the project going forward at some point in the future. Trump has been critical of the project, dismissing it as “pure political correctness” when he was campaigning for president in 2016 — he proposed featuring Tubman on $2 bills instead.

Mnuchin, however, is denying the allegation that the delay came about in order to avoid offending Trump. Last week, the Treasury Department secretary told the New York Times, “Let me assure you, this speculation that we’ve slowed down the process is just not the case.”

A Treasury Department employee, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Times that he or she personally viewed a digital image of the Tubman $20 bill while it was being examined by engravers and U.S. Secret Service officials as recently as May 2018 — and the Tubman redesign process, according to the Times’ source, appeared to be far along at that point.

The proposal to replace President Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the $20 bill came from Jack Lew, who served as Treasury Department secretary during President Barack Obama’s second term.

In May, Mnuchin announced that the Tubman version of the $20 bill wouldn’t be unveiled until 2028 — long after Trump is out of office. Mnuchin, during a House Financial Services Committee last month, told Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, “The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues.”

Tubman was a key figure in the civil rights struggle in the United States. Born in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1822, Tubman was a slave until the 1840s and battled slavery via the Underground Railroad (a network of secret routes and abolitionist safe houses). And after slavery was abolished in the U.S., Tubman made women’s suffrage a high priority. Tubman was in her early 90s when she died in 1913.

This week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, wrote a letter to Mnuchin asking him to find a way to accelerate the release of the Tubman $20 bill. Hogan wrote, “I hope that you’ll reconsider your decision and instead join our efforts to promptly memorialize Tubman’s life and many achievements.”



To Conceal Trump Taxes, Mnuchin Cites Non-Existent Legal Memo

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is continuing to defy a request from Congress, first issued in April, to provide Trump’s tax returns.

On Tuesday, Justin Sok, senior adviser for Treasury’s Office of Legislative Affairs, insisted that Mnuchin was justified in his stonewalling because of supposed legal advice from the Department of Justice that doesn’t even exist in writing yet — and no one knows when it ever will.

“The Department of Justice intends to memorialize its advice in a published legal opinion as soon as its practicable,” Sok wrote in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “We will provide a copy of the opinion to you when we receive it.”

That’s the same promise Mnuchin made earlier this month, when he first refused to comply with the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for Trump’s tax returns.

Mnuchin cited “advice” from the DOJ that he should not comply with the request, and said the DOJ would “memorialize its advice in a published legal opinion as soon as practicable.”

But nearly a month later, the legal opinion that supposedly justifies defying Congress has yet to materialize. Neither Mnuchin nor his staff have provided any explanation for why it’s taking the DOJ so long to provide this legal guidance that is the entire basis of Mnuchin’s refusal.

On Thursday, Wyden, whose committee has congressional oversight of the Treasury Department, sent a letter slamming the continued stonewalling.

“The reply I received was unresponsive and wholly unacceptable,” Wyden wrote. “Congress has a constitutional obligation to conduct oversight of the executive branch. If the Treasury Department refuses to answer our questions, I am prepared to again place a hold on department nominees as I did previously when routine requests for information went unanswered.”

Meanwhile, Mnuchin is ignoring an IRS attorney’s memo that does exist and was leaked to the press earlier this month. That memo states that Mnuchin does have to comply with the request and that the “only basis” for refusing to comply “would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

Mnuchin has been claiming that release of Trump’s returns is up to him, but the IRS memo also states that the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion” when it comes to congressional demands for tax returns.

During a House Financial Services Committee hearing the day after the IRS memo was leaked, Mnuchin said he hadn’t reviewed the IRS memo but insisted it was consistent with the supposed DOJ guidance that no one else has seen.

In addition to the IRS memo, several legal experts have said the law is clear and does require Mnuchin to turn over Trump’s taxes.

“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,” Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson told Vox in 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,” said New York University law professor Daniel Shaviro.

Despite what legal experts say, and despite an IRS memo, Mnuchin is still trying to protect Trump by hiding his returns and the embarrassing, unethical, and even criminal business practices they could reveal.

Trump has refused to release his tax returns to the public, unlike every other major presidential candidate of the last 40 years. His continued refusal and flimsy excuses only increase speculation that he’s covering up incredibly damning information. And his treasury secretary is now helping him do it, based on a supposed memo no one has seen.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Steven Mnuchin testifies before a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Treasury secretary in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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.

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.