Monday, 16 September, 2019

IRS memo drafted on handing over tax returns to Congress

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Deanna Wagner | 24 May, 2019, 18:53

The memo said that the only way out of complying with the request from House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is for the president to take the rare step of executive privilege.

Appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Mnuchin said he was not aware of the existence of the memo until reporters from The Washington Post made inquiries about it.

Mnuchin said Wednesday that he didn't know of the memo before the department was contacted by The Post and that he didn't believe it addressed the same issues that led the Justice Department to advise him not to hand over Trump's tax returns. The agency told the Post that IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and current chief counsel Michael Desmond were unfamiliar with it until the Post asked them about it.

Mnuchin's appearance Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee was a continuation of a hearing that had ended with a tense standoff earlier in the month when Mnuchin had complained to Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., that the hearing was going on too long and forcing him to miss a meeting with the head of a foreign country.

Shortly after taking the House this past November, Nancy Pelosi said that the new Democratic House majority would seek to obtain Trump's elusive tax returns, and she is now trying to follow through on that promise.

Neal has said he prefers to move to court without holding Mnuchin in contempt - unlike House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, who spearheaded a recent vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt. Neal told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he needed the returns so his committee could oversee the routine annual audits conducted of every president and vice president.

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But the IRS 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 Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.

The memo was prepared last fall, the Post reported, when Democrats were readying their request for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns. Lacking a legislative goal would be insufficient.

Mnuchin last Friday refused to obey a congressional subpoena to turn over the returns, saying he request "lacks a legitimate legislative objective". The "only basis the agency's refusal to comply with a committee's subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege".

Mnuchin also repeatedly denied any political interference in his decision-making around the tax return issue, stating that he didn't discuss the matter with anyone inside or outside of the White House, including the President himself.

'We're trying to find out who wrote the memo, where it came from, when it was and why it wasn't distributed, ' he added.

Both Treasury and the Justice Department have declined requests for copies of the Justice Department's advice.