WASHINGTON. The Ministry of Justice supported the refusal of Finance Minister Stephen Mnuchin to transfer President Trump’s tax returns to the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives.
In a 33-page conclusion, published Friday night, the Legal Counsel's Bureau wrote that Mr. Mnuchin had reasonably concluded that he could not satisfy the request of Representative Richard Neal (D., Mass), Chairman of the Committee. The memorandum states that the request of the Democrats was really aimed at issuing declarations, rather than monitoring the activities of the Internal Revenue Service.
“The Treasury operates as part of a politically accountable unit with a constitutional duty to resist legislative encroachment on the executive branch and, therefore, does not operate under the same institutional restrictions as the judiciary,” the note by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Engel says. “Here, since the Committee did not have a legitimate legislative purpose, its request did not comply with the statutory exceptions regarding taxpayer confidentiality, and the law required the Treasury to reject this request.”
The Office of the Legal Counsel, headed by Mr. Engel, appointed by Trump, makes recommendations to the executive, but his leadership is not legally binding.
The release follows the promise of Mr. Mnuchin a few weeks ago that the Ministry of Justice memorandum will be issued as soon as possible.
The Democrats of the House of Representatives and the Treasury Department fought over the presidential tax declarations for many months, and the dispute seems to have been submitted to federal court.
In accordance with the Tax Code, declarations are private, and government officials face prosecution if they are released. But under the same law, the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means can request and verify the declarations of any taxpayer. It would have taken a separate committee vote to make any returns or information from them public. In April, Mr. Neil requested six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns and audit reports, first on request and then on subpoena.
Mnuchin refused, arguing that the request was unprecedented and was outside the authority of Congress. Mr. Neil has not yet filed a lawsuit to get the statute enforced or its subpoena.
In accordance with the precedents of the Supreme Court, Congress cannot disclose personal information only for this, and it needs a legitimate legislative purpose for its investigations.
Mr Neal and the House of Democrats said that they have such a goal – to monitor how well the IRS checks the president, who controls the tax administration. They argue that they are within their constitutional powers, and note that the statute requires Mr. Mnuchin to be respected.
Presidents are subject to mandatory inspections in accordance with the IRS procedure, and Mr. Trump used the presence of inspections, both before and after he became president, to refuse to issue his tax returns.
In a note, lawyers of the Ministry of Justice point out many years of statements by the House of Democrats about how they want to see the President’s tax declarations and make them public.
“No one can reasonably believe that the Committee is seeking President Trump’s six-year tax returns because of the newly discovered interest in passing laws on the presidential inspection process,” they wrote. “The Committee’s request reflects the following analysis in a long-standing political battle over the presidential tax declarations.”
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