On Sunday, Mick Mulvaney showed up on Fox to explain when Democrats can expect to get a look at Donald Trump’s tax returns, which Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal formally requested this week.
The timeline on that is, according to Mick, “oh, no… never.” Here, we’ll let him explain the situation to you:
Got that? Here it is again:
They knew they’re not going to get these taxes. They know what the law is. They know that one of the fundamental principles of the IRS is to protect the confidentiality of you and me and everybody else who files taxes. They know the terms by which, under law, the IRS can give them the documents, but ‘political hit job’ is not one of those reasons.
As we (and plenty of others) have patiently explained over the past several days, the “terms” by which Neal can request Trump’s returns give the committee wide discretion. Simply put, the committee can demand any filer’s returns they see fit to demand and a simple read is that Treasury cannot refuse the request. “The provision, which dates in some form to the Teapot Dome scandal of Warren G. Harding’s administration, at least on its face gives the Trump administration little room to decline a request like Mr. Neal’s”, The New York Times wrote on Thursday, before noting that the language simply states that “the Treasury secretary ‘shall’ furnish the information.”
By most accounts (admittedly, “most” is impossible to quantify there, but you get the idea), Neal has all the legal standing he needs – and then some. Consider these quotables from Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow in the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a tax lawyer with a quarter-century of experience under his belt:
As a lawyer, this is a pretty easy question to litigate. Chairman Neal has the authority to obtain this information through this provision, which is unambiguous in its use of the word ‘shall.’
I think the administration’s strategy is to run out the clock and try to get past the election, but the question is, is there any legitimate legal basis to resist? And how long will the legal process take?
For Mnuchin to say just ‘No,’ I’m sure he’d say he’s there to protect the privacy of every American, but that’s B.S.. Congress is there to have oversight of the executive branch, and President Trump is the most important player in the executive branch.
If you look to the legislative context for why this statute exists, and then why Neal is asking, there is not any credible argument to refute the request.
For his part, Trump continues to insist that somehow, being under audit means he cannot furnish the returns. That was a common refrain on the campaign trail and in addition to reiterating it on Wednesday, he parroted the excuse again during his tour of a two-mile stretch of border fencing on Friday. Let’s watch:
For the umpteenth time: That isn’t true. The IRS does not prevent a filer from releasing returns that are under audit.
Additionally, it’s not even clear whether Trump’s implicit contention that although the law doesn’t prevent him from releasing his returns, there’s some kind of unwritten rule he needs to follow in solidarity with other people who are being audited, is true. That is, when he says “When you’re under audit, you don’t do it”, it’s not clear whether “you’re” and “you” is a reference to him and other people who are being audited, or whether that actually just means this: “When you’re Donald Trump, you don’t do it, and you conjure any excuse you need to, with ‘I’m under audit’ being the best thing I’ve come up with so far.”
The other thing we would gently suggest here is that while there’s certainly something appealing about the whole “the IRS needs to protect taxpayers’ privacy” line and while “this is a political hit job” shtick does resonate given how fraught things are inside the Beltway, when you step back and think about it, you struggle to determine how exactly Democrats could weaponize these returns if there’s nothing in them of any consequence. That is, how do you conduct a “political hit job” with properly filed tax returns that, according to Trump anyway, won’t reveal anything suspect?
In any event, the bottom line appears to be that this is headed for the Supreme Court. Mnuchin will defy the request, Neal will subpoena the returns and then, if Mnuchin remains defiant, it’s off to the courts.