Mnuchin says he’ll ‘follow the law’ on Trump tax returns

Andrew Taylor and Martin Crutsinger
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that his department intends to “follow the law” and is reviewing a request by a top House Democrat to provide President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers.

But in Capitol Hill appearances on Tuesday, Mnuchin dodged answering whether he would comply with the request to supply Trump’s tax returns by Wednesday, and he also said he has not promised to authorize the IRS to supply the returns.

“I have said we will comply with the law,” Mnuchin told the House Financial Services Committee. “I have not made a comment one way or the other on whether we will provide the tax returns.”

The head of the IRS, meanwhile, agreed with Democrats that it’s primarily his decision to make — though he reports to Mnuchin. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told lawmakers that “we’re working on” a response to a request from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.

“The decision is mine with the supervision of Treasury,” Rettig said, adding he and Mnuchin have discussed who would handle the response but haven’t reached a conclusion.

Mnuchin also revealed that Treasury Department lawyers have talked to the White House counsel’s office about the question of releasing Trump’s returns, telling lawmakers that the consultations occurred before the request arrived last week. Mnuchin said the conversations were “purely informational,” and he has not been briefed on their content.

Mnuchin told a House panel that he personally has not had any communications with the president or his top staff about the department’s decision on whether to provide Trump’s tax returns under a nearly century-old law that says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” them when requested by top lawmakers.

“I have had no direct conversations with the president or anybody else” at the White House, Mnuchin told the Financial Service panel Tuesday afternoon. He said that members of Treasury’s legal team had had consultations on the matter before the tax return request was made but that the Treasury officials had not sought any type of permission to release the returns.

“We would never ask for the White House’s permission on this,” Mnuchin said.

“It is our intent to follow the law and that is in the process of being reviewed,” Mnuchin told a House Appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for his budget.

Neal, D-Mass., requested the returns last week in a letter to Mnuchin and set a deadline of Wednesday to provide them. Mnuchin says he “looks forward to responding,” but it appears clear that Treasury won’t meet the deadline and actually produce the returns.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Sunday that lawmakers will “never” see Trump’s returns. But the White House is supposed to stay out of the decision, and Rettig said he’s had no contact with anyone there.

Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., citing a long list of Trump administration officials who have departed, pressed Mnuchin on whether he was worried about being fired if he complied with the request.

“I am not afraid of being fired at all,” Mnuchin said. “I want to be clear that we will follow the law.”

Neal requested six years of Trump’s personal and business returns , relying on a 1924 statute that says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” them when requested. The IRS is part of Treasury.

Trump has broken with tradition by not voluntarily releasing his tax returns. He routinely says – as he did Friday – that he’s under audit and therefore won’t release his returns. But Rettig reiterated that there’s no rule prohibiting taxpayers under audit from releasing their returns.

GOP members of the panels rose to Trump’s defense.

“We have no evidence of anything nefarious. We have no evidence that there’s any wrongdoing,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who said the request tramples on Trump’s right to privacy. “The only this works is if the American people trust the IRS and trust this information will be held private. And if it’s not, if that’s violated then people will quit complying.”

Democrats want access to the returns as part of investigations into Trump’s business dealings and his campaign. Trump’s private attorneys have asked Treasury to deny the request as well.

During the 2016 campaign, Rettig defended Trump’s decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his tax filings. Under questioning at his confirmation hearing last August, Rettig pledged to uphold the political independence of the IRS.