Trump Lawyer Urges Treasury Not to Release His Tax Returns

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.

It was the second such letter written on behalf of Mr. Trump since Representative Richard E. Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, formally requested six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns earlier this month. 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.

The fight over Mr. Trump’s tax returns is expected to turn into a protracted legal battle that will likely make its way to the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump, who declined to provide his tax returns while running for president, continues to cite an ongoing audit as the reason he cannot release the documents, despite no rule or law that prevents him from doing so.

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. Trump and his defenders…

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…

Treasury Dept. Declines House Request for Trump’s Tax Returns

Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department said on Wednesday evening that it would not immediately comply with a congressional request to hand over President Trump’s tax returns, setting up a protracted legal battle between two branches of government.

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.

Mr. Mnuchin did not say how much time the review would take but conveyed concerns about whether Congress has authority to review the records.

“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. “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. The issue could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that he would not turn over his tax returns because they remained under audit by the I.R.S., signaling a long fight ahead.

The president, who has used the excuse of an I.R.S. 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 would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit,” Mr. Trump told reporters before departing for a trip to Texas. “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…

Robert Charles: Seeking the president’s tax returns as ‘oversight’ is unprecedented — and pure politics

Do Americans really care about President Trump's tax returns?
Do Americans really care about President Trump’s tax returns?

Whoa! 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. It is transparently political and inappropriate. It is arguably a form of political corruption — the kind we fight against around the world. 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. This is akin to Third World behavior coming to America.

The chairman’s demand carries an April 10 deadline and sweeps for his opponent’s personal and business tax records (both current and distant past). It is part of a broader Democratic plan of attack on the president and comes with an implicit subpoena threat, but it has no legal-basis and is — in a word — ominous.

MULVANEY VOWS DEMS WILL ‘NEVER’ SEE TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS, DESPITE RENEWED PUSH

Arresting is the naked audacity of such a plainly out-of-bounds congressional demand from a non-partisan agency. Tax returns are by definition treated differently from other documents. Like personal medical records, social security numbers, encrypted passwords, and personal thoughts, specific privacy expectations attach.

That is doubly so when private records may be used for political purposes, as that crosses two live wires that should never cross in a non-corrupt republic. The congressional demand is an implied threat to use legally private records to coerce, embarrass, leverage, impugn, extort or compel a political advantage — presumably in the 2020 election or through impeachment.

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…

Democrats seek financial records from Trump Fed pick after Guardian report

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.

Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking members of the Senate banking and finance committees, told Moore they had “read with concern” the Guardian’s reports, which Moore has called “vile and vicious and underhanded”.

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…

Stacey Abrams nonprofit’s spending prompts questions

Joe Biden considering Stacey Abrams as 2020 running mate
Joe Biden considering Stacey Abrams as 2020 running mate

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.

In a matter of months, Abrams has gone from losing the Georgia governor’s race to being a heavily recruited Democratic star, urged to run for Senate and mentioned as a possible presidential contender.

On Wednesday, a GOP-affiliated group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. 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.

Stacey Abrams says 2020 is 'on the table' and Beto O'Rourke prepares to visit Iowa
Stacey Abrams says 2020 is ‘on the table’ and Beto O’Rourke prepares to visit Iowa

Although there is no proof…

People Before Politics reboots to advance Gov. LePage policies

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BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A nonprofit advocacy group linked to Republican former Gov. Paul LePage has geared up in recent months to protect fiscally conservative policies he favored.

Maine People Before Politics, born of LePage’s 2010 inaugural committee, has hired two former officials from his administration. It is rallying opposition to a proposed carbon tax, criticizing Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed budget and has reactivated its online presence, the Bangor Daily News reported.

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…

Average tax refunds fall for second straight week, creating political flashpoint

WASHINGTON —

The average tax refund and the total amount of refunds issued declined for the second straight week, potentially intensifying a political flashpoint seized by Democrats as proof that the Republican-written tax law hurts the middle class.

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.

Total refunds to date are down 23 percent to $22.2 billion, from $28.9 billion last year.

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.

Refunds become an annual check that some three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically count on. For some lower-income households, it is the biggest cash infusion of the year.

SEE ALSO: Free tax prep? You could qualify for these IRS programs

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. Fewer people are expected to receive a refund this year. Government officials say that doesn’t reflect rising or falling tax liability.

The tax law enacted in late 2017 “cut taxes across the board, particularly for…

Average tax refunds fall, creating political flashpoint

This Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, in Zelienople, Pa., shows multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns. The government says that the average tax refund and the total amount of refunds issued have declined for the second straight week. The declines have become a political issue, as Democrats contend they show how the new Republican-written tax law hurts middle-class people. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The average tax refund and the total amount of refunds issued declined for the second straight week, potentially intensifying a political flashpoint seized by Democrats as proof that the Republican-written tax law hurts the middle class.

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.

Total refunds to date are down 23 percent to $22.2 billion, from $28.9 billion last year.

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.

Refunds become an annual check that some three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically count on. 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…

On Politics: Trump ‘Not Happy’ With Border Deal

Good Wednesday morning. Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today.

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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.

The agreement would pay for 55 miles of new border fencing, a far cry from the 1,000-mile wall that Mr. Trump wants. Here’s a visual look at what’s been built on the border.

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….