Dems set time limit for tax re­turns

Trea­sury chief will give panel chair­man an an­swer by “ar­bi­trary dead­line”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Tay­lor

WASH­ING­TON» A top House Demo­crat on Satur­day ratch­eted up his de­mand for ac­cess to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tax re­turns, telling the IRS that the law clearly gives Congress a right to them. The govern­ment’s fail­ure to re­spond by an April 23 dead­line could send the dis­pute into fed­eral court.

Trump’s Trea­sury chief, who over­sees the IRS, cited “com­pli­cated le­gal is­sues” and be­moaned “an ar­bi­trary dead­line” set by Congress, while say­ing he would an­swer in that time frame.

A new let­ter by Rep. Richard Neal, the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee chair­man, comes af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion asked for more time to con­sider his ini­tial re­quest last week. Neal had re­quested six years of Trump’s per­sonal and busi­ness tax re

“These are com­pli­cated le­gal is­sues, and I think it is more im­por­tant to the Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers that we get this right than we hit an ar­bi­trary dead­line.” Steven Mnuchin, Trea­sury sec­re­tary

turns.

Neal, D-mass., ar­gues that a 1920-era law say­ing the IRS “shall fur­nish” any tax re­turn re­quested by Congress “is un­am­bigu­ous and raises no com­pli­cated le­gal is­sues” and that the Trea­sury De­part­ment’s ob­jec­tions lack merit.

The let­ter to IRS Com­mis­sioner Charles Ret­tig is the lat­est ex­change in a tug of war over Trump’s re­turns, which would give law­mak­ers far greater in­sight into the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness deal­ings and po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est as it ex­er­cises its over­sight role.

Asked about the let­ter Satur­day, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin said he would re­spond within the new dead­line set by Neal, but he did not prom­ise to pro­duce Trump’s tax re­turns by that time. Mnuchin is the Cabi­net sec­re­tary that over­sees the IRS.

Mnuchin took is­sue with Neal’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the dis­pute as a straight­for­ward is­sue in light of the law gov­ern­ing the mat­ter.

“These are com­pli­cated le­gal is­sues, and I think it is more im­por­tant to the Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers that we get this right than we hit an ar­bi­trary dead­line,” Mnuchin told re­porters. “I would just em­pha­size this is a de­ci­sion that has enor­mous prece­dence in terms of po­ten­tially weaponiz­ing the IRS.”

Mnuchin said that Trea­sury De­part­ment lawyers have been work­ing “dili­gently” to re­search the is­sues in­volved and have been in con­tact with Jus­tice De­part­ment at­tor­neys. But he said he has not per­son­ally dis­cussed the is­sue with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr.

Mnuchin said he thought Neal was just pick­ing an ar­bi­trary dead­line, and he re­fused to spec­u­late how the ad­min­is­tra­tion would pro­ceed if the is­sue goes to court.

Trump de­clined to pro­vide his tax in­for­ma­tion as a can­di­date in 2016 and as pres­i­dent, some­thing party nom­i­nees tra­di­tion­ally have done in the name of the trans­parency. By with­hold­ing his tax re­turns, Trump has not fol­lowed the stan­dard fol­lowed by pres­i­dents since Richard Nixon started the prac­tice in 1969.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump said he wanted to re­lease his re­turns but said be­cause he was un­der a rou­tine au­dit, “I can’t.” Be­ing un­der au­dit is no le­gal bar to any­one re­leas­ing his or her re­turns. And af­ter the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions, Trump claimed at a news con­fer­ence that the fil­ings were too com­plex for peo­ple to un­der­stand.

Asked re­peat­edly at a House hear­ing Tues­day whether any reg­u­la­tion pro­hib­ited a tax­payer from dis­clos­ing re­turns when un­der au­dit, Ret­tig re­sponded “no.”

The is­sue ap­pears sure to end up in fed­eral court. With an eye to a le­gal chal­lenge, Neal told Ret­tig that he has two weeks to re­spond — by 5 p.m. April 23. If Ret­tig fails to do so, Neal said he will in­ter­pret that as deny­ing the re­quest, which could pave the way for a court bat­tle. Neal also could seek the re­turns through a sub­poena.

Mnuchin had told Neal last week that he needs more time to con­sider the un­prece­dented de­mand for Trump’s re­turns and needs to con­sult with the Jus­tice De­part­ment about it.

At con­gres­sional hear­ings, Mnuchin ac­cused law­mak­ers of seek­ing Trump’s re­turns for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. But he also ac­knowl­edged his “statu­tory re­spon­si­bil­i­ties” and that he re­spects con­gres­sional over­sight. Some Trea­sury watch­ers ob­serve that Mnuchin’s de­ci­sion to con­sult with the Jus­tice De­part­ment could sug­gest that Trea­sury lawyers be­lieve Neal has a le­gal right to Trump’s re­turns.

Neal said Satur­day that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has no right “to ques­tion or sec­ond guess” his mo­ti­va­tions.

Trump’s act­ing chief of staff, Mick Mul­vaney, has said Democrats will “never” see the re­turns, “nor should they,” and “they know it.” Mul­vaney has tried to frame the is­sue of the pres­i­dent’s taxes as old news, say­ing it was “al­ready lit­i­gated dur­ing the elec­tion” and the Amer­i­can peo­ple “elected him any­way.”

Wil­liam Consovoy, whose firm was re­tained by Trump to rep­re­sent him on the mat­ter, has writ­ten the Trea­sury’s gen­eral coun­sel and said the con­gres­sional re­quest “would set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent” if granted and that the IRS can­not legally di­vulge the in­for­ma­tion.

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