House Democrats Give IRS Hard Deadline Of April 23 To Turn Over Trump Tax Returns, Say Administration’s Concerns ‘Lack Merit’

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, speaks during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington on April 9, 2019. Image: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg


-- House Democrats are giving the Trump administration a hard deadline of April 23 to turn over President Trump’s tax returns, pushing back against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s skepticism over their request for the private records.

Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, on Saturday sent a two-page letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig rebuffing Mnuchin’s statement earlier this week that Treasury would miss House Democrats’ initial April 10 deadline for the returns.

Mnuchin’s concerns “lack merit,” Neal wrote.

Neal’s latest letter sets the stage for further escalation in the conflict between Congress and the White House, as legal experts have suggested that an outright denial of their request by Mnuchin could be followed by subpoenas or a lawsuit in federal court. Mnuchin so far has only postponed responding to Democrats’ request and said he would confer with the Justice Department, but he has not yet rejected it.

“Please know that, if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” Neal’s letter states.

Earlier this month, Neal wrote the IRS asking for six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns, which Trump has refused to release, breaking decades of precedent for candidates for the White House. In his letter, Neal argues that the IRS has an “unambiguous legal obligation” to turn over the returns under section 6103 of the tax code, which states that the treasury secretary “shall furnish” a request from the congressional committees with tax oversight.

Congressional Republicans and Trump’s personal attorney, William S. Consovoy, have argued Democrats’ request risks weaponizing the IRS for partisan political gain, with Consovoy calling it a “gross abuse of power.” Mnuchin’s letter earlier this week said Neal’s request “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of congressional investigative authority.”

Mnuchin revealed in congressional testimony that White House lawyers consulted with Treasury on Trump's tax returns.

“It is not the proper function of the IRS, Treasury, or Justice to question or second guess the motivations of the committee,” Neal writes in his letter. “Judicial precedent commands that none of the concerns raised can legitimately be used to deny the committee’s request.”

Attorneys under Neal have been carefully crafting their correspondence with the Treasury Department to improve their odds of winning a subsequent court battle. Some legal experts have speculated that Neal may be trying to improve his case by waiting for an outright denial before leveling additional threats.

“At a certain point, it’s obvious there is not going to be something forthcoming, and at that point you take further steps,” said George K. Yin, a University of Virginia law professor who served as chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation, in an interview earlier this week. “My inclination is it’s not yet.”