A top House Democrat on Friday issued subpoenas for six years of US President Donald Trump‘s tax returns, giving Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig a deadline of next Friday to deliver them.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat, issued the subpoenas days after Mnuchin refused to comply with demands to turn over Trump’s returns. Mnuchin told the panel he would not provide Trump’s tax records because the panel’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose”, as Supreme Court precedent requires.
The subpoenas give Mnuchin and Rettig until May 17 at 5pm (21:00 GMT) to produce Trump’s tax records.
Neal reminded the two Trump appointees in a Friday letter that federal law states that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “shall furnish” the tax returns of any individual upon the request of the chairmen of Congress’s tax-writing committees and that Ways and Means “has never been denied” a request.
The White House and the Democratic-controlled House are waging a multi-front battle over investigations into Trump and the administration has been refusing to comply across the board, refusing to comply with subpoenas for the unredacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and documents related to the testimony by former White House Counsel Donald McGahn.
Neal originally demanded access to Trump’s tax returns in early April. He maintains that the committee is looking into the effectiveness of IRS mandatory audits of tax returns of all sitting presidents, a way to justify his claim that the panel has a potential legislative purpose. Democrats are confident in their legal justification and say Trump is stalling in an attempt to punt the issue past the 2020 election.
‘Bodyguard to the president’
In rejecting the request, Mnuchin said he relied on the advice of the Justice Department. He concluded that the Treasury Department is “not authorised to disclose the requested returns and return information”. Mnuchin has also said that Neal’s request would potentially weaponise private tax returns for political purposes.
“While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material,” Neal said in a statement.
Trump has privately made clear he has no intention of turning over the much-coveted records. He is the first president since Watergate to decline to make his tax returns public, often claiming that he would release them if he were not under audit.
“What’s unprecedented is this secretary refusing to comply with our lawful … request. What’s unprecedented is a Justice Department that again sees its role as being bodyguard to the executive and not the rule of law,” said Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell. “What’s unprecedented is an entire federal government working in concert to shield a corrupt president from legal accountability.”
But the president has told those close to him that the attempt to get his returns was an invasion of his privacy and a further example of what he calls the Democrat-led “witch-hunt” – like Mueller’s Russia probe – meant to damage him.
Trump has repeatedly asked aides as to the status of the House request and has not signalled a willingness to cooperate with Democrats, according to a White House official and two Republicans close to the White House.
He has linked the effort to the myriad House probes into his administration and has urged his team to stonewall all requests. He also has inquired about the “loyalty” of the top officials at the IRS, according to one of his advisers.