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.”
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