Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday rejected a subpoena from House Democrats demanding President Trump’s tax returns, setting the stage for a court battle over the documents.
Mnuchin said the House Ways and Means Committee’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” citing the legal advice of the Justice Department in denying the demand.
“We are unable to provide the requested information in response to the Committee’s subpoena,” Mnuchin wrote.
Last week, Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee, issued subpoenas that gave Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig until Friday at 5 p.m. to turn over Trump’s financial records. House Democrats have expressed confidence the law requires the IRS to permit them to access the tax returns, a position supported by numerous legal experts.
The denial may be the last step before a federal court fight over Trump’s financial records, the source of significant speculation since Trump refused to release them during the 2016 presidential campaign in a break with decades of precedent.
Neal is expected to soon sue the administration in federal court to enforce the subpoenas. Mnuchin told a Senate panel this week he was glad the judiciary would be responsible for mediating the dispute between Congress and the administration.
“A lawsuit is the next step. There’s no negotiation here,” said Steve Rosenthal, an expert at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank.
The expected court battle is part of the broader clash between House Democrats and the White House over a range of oversight issues, as congressional Democrats on the intelligence and judiciary committees have sought access to many documents that the Trump administration has refused to release.
Mnuchin and congressional Republicans have cited concerns over taxpayer privacy in denying the request, accusing Democrats of seeking to “weaponize” the IRS.
“The Committee’s request is unprecedented, and it presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers,” Mnuchin said in a letter to Neal earlier this month.
The administration has not made public the Justice Department’s legal guidance on the question of the president’s tax returns.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested in an interview that Mnuchin may be subject to a fine, a contempt vote or even possibly jail time for ignoring what he said was the clear intent of the law.
“I would throw the book at these guys,” Pascrell said. “We don’t have a kingdom, regardless of the imagination of some public officials ... you deserve the full weight of the law. Let’s not play games anymore.”
Neal also responded Friday afternoon with a statement, saying the law “provides clear statutory authority” for the Ways and Means Committee to review the returns, adding he would consult with legal counsel on the next step.
Neal first demanded six years of Trump’s personal and business returns, from 2013 to 2018, in letters to the administration last month.
Neal’s subpoenas demanded that for these years Mnuchin and Rettig turn over Trump’s individual income tax returns, all “administrative files” such as affidavits for those income tax returns, and income tax returns for a number of Trump’s business holdings such as the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, an umbrella entity that controls dozens of other businesses including the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.