Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is calling House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal's bluff and will not hand over Donald Trump's tax information, saying he has been advised by Attorney General Bill Barr that he is not authorized to turn Trump's taxes over to anyone despite what the law says.
Democrats’ request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose” and the Treasury Department is therefore “not authorized” to hand over the documents, Mnuchin said in a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
Neal had requested the documents under a longstanding federal law giving Congress access to private tax information. Mnuchin said he’s not authorized to produce the documents, but the law actually doesn’t authorize him to refuse.
“The law, by its terms, does not allow for discretion as to whether to comply with a request for tax returns and return information,” Neal said in a statement responding to Mnuchin’s letter.
The tax returns are just one part of a broader standoff between the Trump administration and Congress. Lawmakers have a constitutional right to oversee the executive branch, but the White House has been stonewalling demands for testimony and documents.
Democrats will probably be at the mercy of federal courts to enforce their subpoenas, although some lawmakers have talked about dusting off the legislature’s own power to force compliance through jail or fines.
Neal asked for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns last month and followed through with the subpoena last week after Mnuchin refused the initial request.
“I didn’t think that they would turn it over,” Neal told HuffPost on Thursday, before Mnuchin had officially defied the subpoena.
Neal declined to discuss next steps but has previously said he would sue in federal court and ask a judge to enforce the subpoena. Courts have repeatedly ordered executive branch officials to cooperate with subpoenas, but the process typically takes longer than election cycles, meaning Trump could be out of office before Democrats can win.
And so the Trump tax case ends with a whimper. We will never see them, because they will be tied up in court for years, and by then the 2020 election will be over one way or another. If Trump loses (or Democrats lose the House in 2020) then the request dies in court, and if Trump wins, the Supreme Court will eventually block the law as unconstitutional considering Trump will get at least one more Justice to pick, if not two, in a second term (and no, Democrats won't block a pick if they should somehow win back the Senate, because they are Democrats.)
This is the effective end of the Trump tax fight. I hate to say it, but Mnuchin's not going to jail, and Richard Neal isn't going to dust off the cell in the Capitol building to hold him there, and Mnuchin is one of the richest people in the country and fines won't mean a damn thing.
It's over, and we lost.
Trump will win because Democrats aren't willing to use every tool they have, and Trump (and Mitch McConnell) will use every tool.
That's the real story of this decade in American politics.