Donald Trump spent most of Monday running around in his “tariff man” costume and focusing on how best to go about tanking global markets in the course of inexplicably reigniting the trade war with China, but that doesn’t mean the president didn’t make time for his favorite hobby: Obstructing justice.
It’s been more than a month since Richard Neal formally requested six years of Trump’s tax returns and over the course of the last four weeks, Steve Mnuchin has generally stuck to the script. Although the treasury secretary claimed he would act in accordance with the law, it became apparent early on that he had every intention of stonewalling Ways and Means on the excuse that turning over the president’s returns would set a “dangerous precedent”.
Mnuchin has been assisted in his efforts by the usual suspects. Mick Mulvaney, for instance, said Democrats would “never” see Trump’s returns and Maria Bartiromo did her part too, hosting Mnuchin for a silly interview two weeks back, during which the former CNBC “money honey”-turned sycophant asked the treasury secretary a series of softball questions which Steve promptly knocked out of the park. Sarah Sanders took things up another notch, insisting that lawmakers “aren’t smart enough” to understand Trump’s finances.
Through it all, Trump continued to contend that he simply couldn’t produce his returns because he’s under audit. That excuse has never made any sense – the IRS does not prevent a filer from sharing their returns if they are being audited and as far as I know, Trump has never provided any proof that his returns are in fact being scrutinized, other than by lawmakers.
Well, on Monday, Mnuchin formally declined Neal’s request, setting up a high-stakes legal fight and proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Treasury is under pressure from the White House to fall on this live grenade for Trump.
“[Your request] presents serious constitutional questions, the resolution of which may have lasting consequences for all taxpayers”, Mnuchin wrote to Neal, adding that after consulting with William Barr’s Justice Department, he has “determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
In other words, this is yet another example of Barr shielding Trump from scrutiny and it sets the stage for Neal to issue a subpoena. Failing that, Richard might just sue.
In his own statement, Neal said he’ll “consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response.”
Bill Pascrell was less diplomatic. “This absurd letter calls Congress doing its job ‘unprecedented’ [but] what’s unprecedented is this Secretary refusing to comply with our lawful, Article I request”, he said.
This comes as Trump fights tooth and nail to fend off Democrats’ efforts to get a look under the hood of his notoriously opaque finances. Last week, Trump sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One to block the banks from complying with congressional subpoenas and the week before that, he sued Elijah Cummings for trying to compel Mazars USA to produce financial records.
For his part, Barr is on the verge of being found in contempt for refusing to show before Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee last week, a day after the attorney general’s testimony before Lindsey Graham’s Senate panel stoked Democrat fears that the Justice Department is complicit in a coverup.
“The attorney general’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted [Mueller] report”, Nadler said Monday. “If the Department presents us with a good faith offer for access to the full report and the underlying evidence, I reserve the right to postpone these proceedings.”
One certainly imagines that Mnuchin is not particularly pleased about being wrapped up in all of this. Steve may be the most credible high-ranking official in the Trump administration (which isn’t saying a lot), but his refusal to comply with Neal’s request and his decision to cite Barr’s Justice Department in the course of that non-compliance means Mnuchin is setting himself up to go through legal hell for a president who, frankly, wouldn’t piss on his treasury secretary if he was on fire.
Perhaps Steve should have listened to his Yale classmates and resigned in 2017 before it was too late.