Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin informed Congress on Monday that the Treasury Department will not release President Trump’s tax returns as demanded by the House Ways and Means Committee because they do not “reasonably serve a legitimate legislative purpose.” The move was widely expected given the Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to thwart congressional inquiries into his general presidential shadiness and has set up a legal standoff between two branches of government that appears destined to be resolved by the third—in the Supreme Court.
Congressional Democrats are seeking six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns. “As you have recognized, the committee’s request is unprecedented, and it presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers,” Mnuchin wrote in a letter to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (D–Mass.) “In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and pursuant to section 6103, the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”
Neal, who has justified the request as part of an effort to assess the effectiveness of the automatic presidential tax audit that all sitting presidents are subjected to, issued a short statement in response to Mnuchin: “I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response.” Democrats’ next move remains uncertain though all available options seem likely to end in court. Neal could file a lawsuit accusing Mnuchin of breaking the law by not complying with Congress’ request; he could also try to subpoena Trump’s returns.