House Chairman Says Treasury’s Reasons to Withhold Trump’s Tax Returns ‘Lack Merit’

Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

A Democratic House chairman on Saturday castigated the Treasury Department for failing to meet his deadline to furnish President Trump’s tax returns, arguing that the administration’s apparent concerns over his use of powers outlined in the Internal Revenue Service’s tax code “lack merit.”

The chairman, Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, set a new deadline for compliance, April 23, and warned that if the Trump administration did not reply by then, its “failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request.”

The tone of Mr. Neal’s letter suggested Democrats are prepared to take their request — made through a little-known provision in the federal tax code — to court if necessary, initiating what could be a protracted legal fight over Congress’s oversight powers. In it, he cited legal precedent that he argued clearly showed the law is on the committee’s side, and said that the executive branch had no right to “second guess” its motivations.

[Read the letter here.]

“I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding my request and the authority of the committee,” Mr. Neal wrote. “Those concerns lack merit. Moreover, judicial precedent commands that none of the concerns raised can legitimately be used to deny the committee’s request.”

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said on Saturday that he had read Mr. Neal’s letter but made no commitments about complying with the request by the new deadline, which he described as “arbitrary.”

“I feel a responsibility that we get this right and that the I.R.S. doesn’t become weaponized like it was under the Nixon administration,” Mr. Mnuchin said during a news briefing on the sidelines of the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Mr. Mnuchin said that Treasury lawyers were studying the lawfulness of the request with the Justice Department. While he said that he would follow the law, he made clear that he had serious concerns about protecting the privacy of the tax returns of all taxpayers, including Mr. Trump.

“I don’t think these are simple issues,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “They are constitutional issues.”

House Democrats, anticipating an increasingly likely legal fight over the Ways and Means action, have also taken steps to open a side door into Mr. Trump’s finances. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, informed Republicans on Friday that he intended to issue a subpoena in the coming days to compel Mazars USA, an accounting company tied to the president, to turn over relevant financial records in its possession.

Republicans balked at the request, calling it an “astonishing abuse” of the committee’s powers. But Mr. Cummings said he had the authority to investigate potential wrongdoing by Mr. Trump and testimony from Michael D. Cohen, his longtime fixer, that the president had intentionally misrepresented his assets and liabilities to suit his needs at a given moment.

“The committee has full authority to investigate whether the…

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