Politics

Wyden to Delay Treasury Nominee Amid Tax and Oversight Fights

Oregon Democrat wants information on Trump lawyer Cohen and Russian operatives

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is holding up the nomination of Justin Muzinich to be deputy Treasury secretary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Ron Wyden said Wednesday he will place a hold on President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top Treasury Department post because Democrats have been stymied by the department in their oversight efforts.

The Oregon Democrat, ranking member on Senate Finance, said at a committee meeting that he’ll hold up the nomination of Justin Muzinich, tapped for deputy Treasury secretary, but he will support Michael Desmond’s nomination for chief counsel at the IRS and assistant general counsel at Treasury.

The Finance panel voted later Wednesday to send the nominations to the floor — the tally was 25-2 in favor of Desmond, but Muzinich barely squeaked through on a partisan 14-13 vote.

Wyden said Treasury has refused his requests for information about Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, as well as two individuals, Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina, suspected of using their connections to the National Rifle Association to influence U.S. politics on behalf of the Russian government.

“Nobody on this side is asking for anybody’s high school diaries,” Wyden said. “This committee is attempting to pursue information that’s key to uncovering corruption and protecting our democracy from foreign interference.”

Wyden also criticized an idea being weighed by the Trump administration: to take executive action to index capital gains to inflation. Democrats have slammed the proposal as an additional tax break that would overwhelmingly benefit wealthy investors.

“I have an extremely difficult time believing that Mr. Muzinich … hasn’t been involved in these controversial deliberations,” Wyden said, noting that Muzinich was involved in shaping last year’s tax code overhaul in his role as counselor to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin has said his department was studying whether or not it could act on its own to index capital gains to inflation, without legislation by Congress. Larry Kudlow, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, also called for executive action on capital gains before he joined the White House.

California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced a measure that would index capital gains for inflation. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma filed a similar bill in the Senate.

Before joining Treasury in 2017, Muzinich worked for years on Wall Street, as a professor at Columbia Business School and as policy director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Desmond, a California tax lawyer, was a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s tax division during the Clinton administration and a legislative counsel in Treasury’s tax policy office during the George W. Bush administration.

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