House committee sends new letter to IRS demanding Trump’s tax returns

Posted at 8:13 PM, Apr 13, 2019

(CNN) — House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is not backing down on his request for six years of the President Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns, he writes In a new letter sent Saturday to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

In a two-page letter, Neal writes that he believes his committee is well within its rights to see the President’s tax returns and that he expects a decision from the IRS within the next 10 days.

“I expect a reply from the IRS by 5:00 p.m. on April 23, 2019. Please know that if you fail to comply, your failure will be interpreted as a denial of my request,” Neal writes.

The letter leans heavily into the committee’s legal rational for the returns and Neal writes that, “I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding my request, and the authority of the committee. Those concerns lack merit. Moreover, judicial precedent commands that none of the concerns raised can legitimately be used to deny the committee’s request.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday said he has “not personally spoken” to Attorney General William Barr about a congressional request made by Neal for Trump’s tax returns.

When asked by CNN, the secretary told reporters that the Treasury’s Department’s legal office has been in consultation with the Justice Department’s lawyers.

“Those conversation have started, but it would be premature for me to conclude how long that will take, because as I’ve said these are complicated issues,” said Mnuchin, who was speaking on the sidelines of the annual International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington. “And I think it’s more important to the American taxpayers that we get this right than we hit an arbitrary deadline.”

When asked by CNN whether he would be able reconcile concerns around the constitutionality of the request by Neal’s new deadline of April 23, he said, “I’m not going to make a commitment prematurely as to whether we will be able to conclude our legal review within that deadline or not. Obviously, given the importance of this issue we have people working on this diligently. But again I would just emphasize this is a decision that has enormous precedence in potentially weaponizing the IRS.

“The chairman gave us a deadline last time. Again, we responded by that deadline,” said Mnuchin, who first saw Neal’s letter earlier on Saturday on Twitter. “The Chairman is giving us a new deadline. I’m sure we’ll respond by that deadline.”

READ: Neal’s letter to the IRS

The letter comes just days after the Treasury Department told Neal that it would not meet a one-week deadline to turn over the President’s tax information and that it would instead consult with the Justice Department before responding further.

Highlighting what he called the “unprecedented nature of this request,” Mnuchin wrote to Neal this week that he — not the IRS commissioner — would manage the Treasury’s handling of the request and that the Justice Department was being consulted “to ensure that our response is fully consistent with the law and Constitution.”

“The Committee’s request raises serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of Congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens,” Mnuchin wrote. “The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power.”

The standoff between Congress and the administration over the request is expected to launch an unprecedented legal battle, one that will test for the first time in court a 1920s-era tax statute that was little known until recently.

Democrats believe they have the power under IRS code 6103 to request Trump’s tax information including, but not limited to his tax returns. The law states that three people: the House Ways and Means chairman, the head of the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Chairman of Senate Finance can ask for anyone’s personal tax information for their committee’s use. Neal has argued that the committee needs Trump’s tax information in order to conduct oversight of the Presidential audit program, a program that is not enshrined in law, but instead has become a routine procedure at the IRS that when a new President comes into office.

The back-and-forth is just the beginning of a fight that has long been anticipated to weave its way through the courts. Democrats argue that 6103 requests are made all the time and are routinely handled through the IRS, not under the supervision of the treasury secretary.

Republicans have dismissed Neal’s request as unprecedented and political. Mnuchin himself has argued that requesting the President’s personal tax returns now rises to a level that he needs to be involved.