Treasury denies 'unprecedented' request for Trump's tax returns

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Treasury denies 'unprecedented' request for Trump's tax returnsAnalysts viewed the flat denial as a direct challenge to Congress’ power to oversee the other two branches of governmentSteve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, wrote in a letter that he consulted the justice department on the legality of Congress’ request for Donald Trump’s tax returns. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/APThe Treasury department has denied a request by Congress for copies of Donald Trump’s tax returns, saying that Congress had overstepped its bounds in requesting them.The flat denial, which analysts viewed as a direct challenge to the supposed power of Congress to oversee the other two branches of government, was the latest in an escalating series of confrontations between Trump and the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives.Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal on Monday that the request from Congress was “unprecedented” and that he had consulted with the justice department on its legality.“In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” Mnuchin writes, “and ... the department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”Democrats in congress have said that Trump’s tax returns must be reviewed for what the returns could reveal about foreign investments, debts or other financial arrangements. Trump has resisted the push, accusing Democrats of harassment.Neal, the committee chairman, replied in a statement Monday that he would seek legal advice on what to do next.“Today, secretary Mnuchin notified me that the IRS will not provide the documents I requested under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code,” Neal said. “I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response.”Mnuchin said the justice department would “memorialize its advice in a published legal opinion as soon as practicable”. But after the refusal of attorney general William Barr to testify before a House committee and a Democratic move to hold him in contempt of Congress, a legal fight over the tax returns appeared inevitable.Analysts rejected Mnuchin’s assertion that Congress did not have a “legitimate legislative purpose” for requesting Trump’s taxes.Daniel Hemel, assistant professor at University of Chicago law school, pointed out that the Ways and Means committee, where tax law is written, has oversight authority over the IRS and the tax system more generally.“Whether the president is paying his taxes is important to overall tax morale,” Hemel wrote. The request for tax returns, Hemel continued, did not mean that the committee was encroaching on IRS turf, but rather that congress was verifying that the IRS is doing its own job.“If anyone doubted that president is influencing tax administration in his favor, the fact that Mnuchin won’t let the IRS comply with Neal’s request should erase that doubt,” Hemel concluded.Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent on the Yale faculty, added some historical background.“The legislative purpose of the law under which the Ways & Means Committee is requesting Trump’s tax returns was passed in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal,” Rangappa tweeted.“The entire purpose of the law is to have oversight over potential financial conflicts of public officials.”Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to conceal his tax returns, which Congress has the explicit power to obtain under a 1924 law, the Washington Post reported.

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