In a move that was expected yet will lead to fresh howls of outrage by Democrats demanding William Barr be drawn and quartered, late on Friday the Department of Justice released a 33-page legal opinion backing up Steven Mnuchin’s and the Treasury Department’s decision to reject a request by congressional Democrats for six years of President Trump’s tax returns.
“While the Executive Branch should accord due deference and respect to congressional requests, Treasury was not obliged to accept the Committee’s stated purpose without question, and based on all the facts and circumstances, we agreed that the Committee lacked a legitimate legislative purpose for its request,” wrote Steven Engel, an assistant attorney general in DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.
The document follows Steven Mnuchin’s rejection of a subpoena from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) last month, demanding Trump’s personal and business tax returns from 2013 through 2018.
When the Treasury Secretary rejected Neal’s request, he said that he did so upon the advice of DOJ, and that the Justice Department would publish a legal opinion with its advice. Back in April, Trump, who has agreed to “absolutely” release his returns once they are no longer under IRS audit, told reporters “Hey, I’m under audit. But that’s up to whoever it is. From what I understand the law is 100 percent on my side.”
Two months ago we quoted Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center who testified before Congress in February about Trump’s tax returns, and who said that “[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office: whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president.”
Fast forward to today when we know the answer: Mnuchin simply did what the DOJ advised. And while democrats will be furious, demanding Barr’s scalp, several republicans will be happy with the DOJ opinion, especially Rep. Kevin Brady who two months ago said that “weaponizing our nation’s tax code by targeting political foes sets a dangerous precedent and weakens Americans’ privacy rights,” adding “As you know, by law all Americans have a fundamental right to the privacy of the personal information found in their tax returns.”
The full, 33-page memo (link) is below.