Treasury followed procedure in denying Trump tax returns

Agency watchdog says Treasury officials acted properly in processing congressional request for Trump returns

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes a call during COVID-19 aid talks last month. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin takes a call during COVID-19 aid talks last month. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 10, 2020 at 4:08pm

Treasury Department officials acted within normal guidelines when they blocked House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal’s requests to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, according to a Treasury Office of Inspector General inquiry released Friday.

"The core of our inquiry is that the Department processed the request properly, that it sought legal guidance from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), determined that it was bound by that office's advice, and based on that advice determined not to provide the returns and tax information sought,” Treasury Inspector General Rich Delmar wrote.

Delmar wrote in his Friday letter to Neal, D-Mass., and Ways and Means committee ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, that it's not the role of the inspector general to provide an opinion on the Justice Department's legal analysis or conclusions.

Neal first requested six years of Trump’s tax returns and six years of tax returns from eight Trump companies on April 3, 2019. Neal referenced Sec. 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, which states that upon written request from the chairs of either Ways and Means of the Senate Finance Committee that “the [Treasury] Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified.”

In an exchange of letters, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argued that Neal’s requests for Trump’s tax returns were driven by politics and that court rulings had held that Congress’ “information demands must reasonably serve a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Neal followed his unfulfilled requests with subpoenas and filed suit seeking their enforcement in federal district court in Washington on July 2. The case has been stayed since January pending the outcome of a related case brought by the House Judiciary Committee to compel the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Neal’s position hasn’t changed following the release of the report. “Chairman Neal maintains that the law is on his side and he believes his request should be granted,” according to a statement from his office.

[California Supreme Court blocks effort to get Trump’s tax returns]

By contrast, Neal's Senate GOP counterpart was pleased with the findings.

“This should put to bed any question about the Treasury Department’s handling of this matter,” Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley said in a release Friday. “I applaud Secretary Mnuchin for following the proper procedures, and the law, in denying the request for President Trump’s tax returns on the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, which determined the request lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.”

But Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden said the inquiry "falls far short, taking the word of Treasury Department officials that they did nothing wrong at face value and dismissing contradictory interviews."

The Oregon Democrat also complained about the inquiry's statement that an unsolicited letter from Trump attorney William Consovoy to Treasury's general counsel's office did not affect the process.

There was "no factual basis" for that conclusion "other than assurances from these same Treasury officials that it didn’t. This is a serious matter that deserved a much more thorough investigation.”

A five-page memorandum on the Treasury Inspector General’s inquiry said the effort involved interviews with eight Treasury officials, seven in the Office of General Counsel and one in the Office of Legislative Affairs.

Treasury followed general rules for handling legislative branch requests “with the occasional change” as Neal’s request transitioned into a subpoena, the memo said.

Based on interviews and emails, the inquiry “found Treasury's receipt, processing, and responses to Chairman Neal's requests for records and subpoenas to be consistent with Treasury's general process for handling Congressional correspondence and requests to include Secretary Mnuchin supervising the matter,” the memo said in its conclusion.

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