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Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times WASHINGTON — President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday urged the Treasury Department not to hand over Mr. Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, warning that releasing the documents to lawmakers he accused of having a “radical view of unchecked congressional power” would turn the Internal Revenue Service into a political weapon. Mr. Neal on Saturday gave the Internal Revenue Service until April 23 to provide him with the tax returns after Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said last week that he could not meet an earlier deadline because he needed to study the lawfulness of the request. Mr. Neal used an obscure provision of the tax code to request the returns, which he said his committee needs in order to evaluate the policy of automatic audits of presidential tax returns. Mr. Neal argued in his letter on Saturday that the administration has no authority to question how the committee would handle the information or the validity of its legislative purpose. Mr. Trump’s lawyer, William S. Consovoy, said on Monday that the legal rationale behind Mr. Neal’s dismissal of the Treasury Department’s concerns was wrong. But Mr. Consovoy, echoing an argument that Trump administration officials have made privately, said that in this case the intent of the law is more important than the letter of the law. “Congress’s motives do matter under the Constitution,” Mr. Consovoy wrote, arguing that the request for Mr. Trump’s tax information does not serve any legislative purpose. “This isn’t an issue just about the president’s tax returns and congressional oversight,” Mr. Mnuchin said on the Fox Business Network on Monday. “This is an issue about protecting Americans.” He added: “I want to make sure that the I.R.S. was weaponized.”
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. 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. 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. Mr. Trump himself has made abundantly clear he does not intend to relent on his yearslong objections to turning over his tax returns, and his personal lawyer has urged the Treasury Department to fight Mr. Neal’s request. “The committee’s request raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens,” Mr. Mnuchin wrote. But no law prevents a taxpayer from releasing returns while under audit, and the I.R.S. Mr. Neal says it is a committee investigation of that mandatory presidential audit policy that necessitates seeing Mr. Trump’s returns. Legal scholars who have studied the provision and Mr. Neal’s request believe that if the Treasury Department does object, it will argue that the Ways and Means chairman has overstepped Congress’s oversight authority by making a request that lacks a legitimate legislative purpose and is meant only to achieve a political end. At the news briefing on Saturday, Mr. Mnuchin defended his decision to oversee the request, noting that the Treasury Department supervises the tax collection agency. “There is no valid basis to question the legitimacy of the committee’s legislative purpose here,” Mr. Neal wrote, citing a 1957 Supreme Court case, Watkins v. United States, as saying Congress’s investigative powers were “broad” and “encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes.” But legal scholars say that the administration could seek to cite the same 1957 ruling against the committee, because it also holds that while the powers of Congress to investigate are “broad,” they are also “not unlimited.”
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a letter to Representative Richard E. Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, that the Treasury Department’s lawyers needed more time to assess the lawfulness of the request and expressed concern that it would be a violation of taxpayer privacy. “The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically motivated disclosures of tax information, regardless of which party is in power.” Mr. Neal responded to Mr. Mnuchin’s decision with a terse statement that indicated he believed the request was a matter for the Internal Revenue Service, not the Treasury secretary: “I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response to the commissioner in the coming days.” Mr. Neal is expected to send a follow-up letter demanding the tax returns and outlining potential next steps, which could include a subpoena or a lawsuit. audit since the 2016 presidential campaign, made clear he would continue to cite that as a reason not to release his tax records, even though no law prevents a taxpayer from releasing returns while under audit. “I have no obligation to do that while under audit and no lawyer would tell you to release your tax returns while you’re under audit.” Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department was facing a midnight deadline to respond to a letter sent last week by Mr. Neal, who issued a formal request for six years of Mr. Trump’s personal and business tax records. Mr. Mnuchin signaled his intention on Tuesday, when he told members of Congress that the president had no legal obligation to make his tax returns public. “Whether it is this party or a different party over time, I take the obligation very seriously to make sure that we follow the law correctly.” But the provision in tax law that Democrats are using appears to give the Trump administration little leeway to resist their request; it says merely that the Treasury secretary “shall” furnish the requested information. It was used several times by House Republicans when they were investigating whether the I.R.S. “Again, believing that he is above the law, Trump is engaged in obstruction.” Republicans praised Mr. Mnuchin’s caution and lashed out at Democrats for what they said was an abuse of power. “Americans didn’t elect their members of Congress to go to Washington to try to dig up harmful information on their political opponents,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The tax returns of presidents are automatically audited.
In a radical departure from American legal and political tradition, the chairman of the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee just demanded the non-partisan IRS produce a Republican president’s tax returns. The demand is more than audacious. Having managed law enforcement and “rule of law” programs in 70 countries for the U.S. State Department, this kind of behavior is what we look out for: politically-motivated overreach. The chairman uses the convenient fig leaf of a 1924 law allowing him to see any tax record with the laughable assertion of non-political congressional oversight authority. Notably, the 1924 law was not intended to leverage tax documents from a president and has never been used to do so. Is this really where the Democrats wish us to go? Both his political friends and foes know that this is pure politics, a crafty ruse and misuse of constitutional and statutory authority for political gain (arguably Exhibit A for political corruption 101). The meaning, history and intent of the 1924 law and limits on congressional oversight should be explained to the public. The Democratic House is again outside the wire, asserting oversight powers it does not have for political ends it should not seek. Average Americans should think hard about what their Congress is doing -- and where such overreach leads.
Democratic US senators have pressed Stephen Moore for detailed information on his finances over the past decade, after the Guardian revealed he owed $75,000 in federal taxes and was held in contempt of court over unpaid debts. Moore, the economics commentator chosen by Donald Trump for a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, was warned in a letter that he may need to provide a full tax return to senators preparing to consider his nomination. The articles disclosed that the IRS is pursuing Moore for $75,000 that it assesses he owes for 2014, and that he was separately reprimanded by a judge in November 2012 for failing to pay more than $300,000 in alimony and child support to his ex-wife. Brown and Wyden asked Moore to explain why he had still not paid the IRS, despite a lien for the debt being filed to court in Maryland in January 2018. Moore has blamed IRS bureaucracy, saying that calls to the service have gone unreturned. Moore said on Fox News this week that the findings on his personal finances and legal issues were irrelevant. “This doesn’t have anything to do with whether I’m qualified to be on the Federal Reserve board,” he said. He was asked in the letter if he had wrongly claimed deductions for child support in other tax years, and whether his alleged debt to the IRS related to any other issues on which he had been challenged. He was also pushed to explain why he apparently failed to respond to notifications from the IRS for several years, and whether any adjustments were made to his tax bills following audits in the last decade. The senators asked for a response by 15 April.
Spending by Fair Fight Action, a nonprofit that former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams founded to advance voting rights, and which is staffed by former Abrams campaign aides, is prompting questions about whether it's inappropriately supporting her political ambitions. The group pointed to roughly $100,000 worth of Facebook ads featuring Abrams, an advertisement for a “Stacey Abrams Fundraiser” that featured Fair Fight Action’s logo, travel for Abrams’ post-election “thank you” tour of Georgia and a professionally produced “highlight reel” of Abrams footage on the group’s website. The complaint argued Fair Fight Action has been supporting Abrams’ political ambitions, not advocating for voting rights. That would be a violation of tax law that forbids political 501(c)(4) nonprofits from providing a “private benefit” to a particular person or group, according to a copy of the complaint provided to The Associated Press. The group typically files ethics complaints against Democrats but also has targeted some Republicans, including North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager, disputed the details of FACT’s complaint. She said that while Abrams is the figurehead of the organization, Fair Fight Action’s promotional activities have always focused on voting rights issues. “It’s no surprise that right-wing hit groups allied with Donald Trump are launching bogus attacks against Fair Fight,” she said in an emailed statement. Caitlin Highland, an Abrams spokeswoman, said Abrams will step down from Fair Fight Action if she runs for office again. It has not yet filed tax paperwork showing what it raised in 2018 when she was running for governor.
Paul LePage, geared up in recent months to protect fiscally conservative policies he favored. Paul LePage has geared up in recent months to protect fiscally conservative policies he favored. It is rallying opposition to a proposed carbon tax, criticizing Democratic Gov. LePage’s push to influence state politics even as he lives in Florida is an unusual move for a former governor. But his spokespeople say the governor, who has threatened to run against Mills in 2020 and wants to launch a “conservative mouthpiece” for Mainers, is concerned about state’s future. LePage was named the group’s honorary chairman. The newspaper’s review of tax filings show the group raised $1.1 million before fundraising halted after 2015. It paid out nearly $100,000 combined to the former governor’s daughter, Lauren LePage, and top political adviser, Brent Littlefield, in 2016 and 2017. The conservative-leaning group does not name its donors under IRS rules governing what are often called “social welfare nonprofits,” which can advocate for issues and raise unlimited amounts of money. Rabinowitz said Maine People Before Politics will file amended forms with the IRS to disclose more information about the group’s activities.
The average refund in the second week of the filing season was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from $2,135 a year earlier, according to IRS data released Thursday. The decline may be largely due to how some employees and employers had adjusted the amounts withheld from paychecks to account for changes under the new tax law. Most taxpayers received a tax cut under the law but some may have had too little withheld, resulting in a smaller-than-expected refund, or even money owed to the government. For some lower-income households, it is the biggest cash infusion of the year. SEE ALSO: Free tax prep? Government officials say that doesn't reflect rising or falling tax liability. Social media posts have flared as early filers adjust. "That big refund they've gotten used to - that's a goner now that (President) Trump's tax changes are the law of the land, and many might owe the government money," Wyden said in the Senate last week. President Donald Trump vowed that families would receive an average $4,000 tax cut. Most taxpayers did receive a tax cut.
The average refund in the second week of the filing season ended Feb. 8 was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from $2,135 a year earlier, according to IRS data released Thursday. The decline may be largely due to how some employees and employers had adjusted the amounts withheld from paychecks to account for changes under the new tax law. Most taxpayers received a tax cut under the law but some may have had too little withheld, resulting in a smaller-than-expected refund, or even money owed to the government. For some lower-income households, it is the biggest cash infusion of the year. The Treasury Department believes around 80 percent of taxpayers will see a decrease in their tax bill this year, while about 15 percent will owe roughly the same amount. Public discontent is providing Democrats with fodder for criticism of a tax overhaul they say is beneficial mostly for big corporations and the rich. “Never mind that the current refund numbers are based on only a few days of data or that refund statistics can vary widely from one week to the next,” Grassley said Wednesday on the Senate floor. The Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, suggested the Trump administration may have schemed to inflate paychecks with the new withholding tables for the tax law, exposing taxpayers to negative surprises as a result. “It sure looks like the Trump administration decided to put politics first, lowball the estimates of how much tax should be withheld from everybody’s paychecks, and lure people into the false sense of security that they’d gotten a big tax cut, courtesy of Donald Trump.” President Donald Trump vowed that families would receive an average $4,000 tax cut. Most taxpayers did receive a tax cut.
Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today. _____________________ • President Trump declared that he was “not happy” about the bipartisan compromise on border security, but said he did not think the government would shut down on Friday. The deal includes just $1.375 billion for new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, much less than in the proposal he rejected in December. Here are five takeaways. • A number of women are running for president, but Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is the only one making feminism the central theme of her candidacy. • A government audit found that because of the recent shutdown, fewer taxpayer calls to the Internal Revenue Service were answered, wait times grew longer and the processing of 87,000 amended tax returns was delayed. The issue was especially acute since it followed Mr. Trump’s tax overhaul, which left many people with questions about filing their returns. • Tens of thousands of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to toxic substances from open-air trash fires, which some believe caused long-term health problems. • The acting defense secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, arrived in Baghdad for an unannounced visit, amid questions about whether some of the American troops slated for withdrawal from Syria might be sent to Iraq. He said that if the two countries were close to a deal, he could let the issue “slide for a little while” and not impose higher tariffs on Chinese goods.
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