Not so fast…
After delaying for more than a month, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he’s not authorized by law to release Trump’s tax returns, and so he won’t order the I.R.S. (which is under his purview) to do so. In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, Mnuchin hides behind a shield provided to him by the Justice department:
“In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and pursuant to section 6103, the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”
That despite the fact that the very section of the Internal Revenue Code to which Mnuchin refers, says this:
“Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request…”
And it does not specify that the Ways and Means Committee Chairman has to specify a reason,
But Mnuchin’s action, or inaction, is hardly a surprise, especially as Republicans have been loudly arguing Democrats have no other reason for wanting the returns other than to harass Trump.
Also remember, Attorney General Bill Barr seems to be on a personal quest to expand Presidential authority. Or if not expand, at least define the President’s power in the broadest terms possible. After all, Barr got the job at least in part because of an unsolicited memo he wrote asserting the President’s constitutional powers are virtually unlimited.
BTW, more than 400 former federal prosecutors who worked under both Democratic and Republican Presidents published a declaration on Medium asserting that Barr is wrong in his contention that the evidence Special Counsel Mueller uncovered regarding obstruction of justice was “not sufficient”. Instead, they say: “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”
Which is important, but at the same time matters little, because it changes nothing. And in fact, it underscores that Barr’s doing yeoman’s work “protecting” the President, which Trump has mentioned as job #1 for the AG. (To digress further, Trump also hired as his new head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a former Obama Administration official who’d been let go when Trump first came into office. That’s after Mark Morgan appeared on Lou Dobbs’ show on Fox Business, looking tough and pledging his support for Trump’s policies).
Meanwhile, Democrats argue federal law clearly states Congress can get whatever official documents it wants, even from the President. But House Ways and Means Committee Chair Neal, did not immediately vow to fight the Trump Administration’s decision and determination in federal court, saying they’d consult their own lawyers to see what steps might be prudent to take next.
We also think there’s probably a medium probability that Trump’s tax returns, if they ever do come out, may not show that much beyond the fact that:
- He probably didn’t pay any income tax for a bunch of years, which would hardly be a surprise,
- He isn’t nearly as rich as he says he is, which for Trump seems like reason enough to fight to the death before the returns are released, but nobody else really cares about because even his supporters know he lies.
Prolific Tweeter and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley commented thusly:
Of course it’s political. But on both sides. If Democrats challenge in the courts, it’ll take months, maybe even years to resolve. Maybe even not in time for the 2020 election. So regardless of whether their initial reasons for requesting the returns are purely partisan or not, the battle over the returns now very definitely is. And it’s probably a good thing for Democrats to keep in the spotlight as they challenge Trump for the Presidency (although not releasing his returns obviously didn’t cost him the Presidency last time.) Still, it’s one of those things that sticks in your head, and if an independent voter finds themselves at a tipping point, it could absolutely be the factor that tips them away from Trump.
But set all that aside. Here’s the reason all this is a real problem: it could end up being one of the most significant tests of whether the Supreme Court has become Trump’s Supreme Court. Because any challenge filed by Democrats will likely be decided there, and should the President prevail, his powers would then be unquestionably super-charged, at the expense of Congress. You might argue a ruling in Trump’s favor could benefit any President for generations to come, including any future Democratic President. But we’re not sure that in these days of hyper-partisanship, that’s the way it works anymore.