Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faces a challenging test after Democrats formally requested President Trump’s tax returns.
Mnuchin has been one of Trump’s most loyal Cabinet members, defending the president’s policies and personal conduct when others have shied away.
Now as the president’s chief line of defense he will have to balance his loyalty to Trump against a request that many experts say leaves him little wiggle room.
“[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,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center who testified before Congress in February about the need to request Trump’s tax returns.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Wednesday evening sent IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig a request for six years’ worth of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Neal made the request under a part of Section 6103 of the federal tax code that states that the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish” tax returns to the chairmen of Congress’s tax committees upon written request, so long as the documents are viewed in a closed session.
Trump — the first president in decades to not voluntarily disclose any of his returns — quickly indicated his dislike for the request.
“Until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he said Wednesday.
When asked Thursday if he would direct the IRS to not disclose his returns, Trump said, “They’ll speak to my lawyers and they’ll speak to the attorney general.”
As head of the department that includes the IRS, Mnuchin will face pressure from Trump and congressional Republicans to push back on Democrats’ request.
Key Republicans are critical of the request. The top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), argued in a letter to Mnuchin Wednesday that the request is “an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority,” and he said it weakens Americans’ right to have their personal information kept private.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Thursday that courts have ruled that congressional requests for information need to have legitimate legislative purposes, and Democrats have fallen short on that front.
“They don’t have a purpose,” he said. “All they have are a lot of excuses.”
Mnuchin said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing last month that the Treasury Department would “follow the law and we will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.”
The Treasury Department has not commented on the tax returns request since it has been issued.
Trump has often publicly criticized members of his administration, but Mnuchin has avoided his wrath.
Mnuchin has been a fierce Trump loyalist and advocate for his agenda, supporting the president’s positions and controversial comments even when they differ from his own views.
The former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer served as Trump’s campaign finance chairman and as an economic adviser before he was tapped to lead the Treasury Department.
Mnuchin, a business-friendly Republican, shared Trump’s support for cutting taxes and loosening bank regulations, if not his protectionist trade policy.
But while top White House officials say Mnuchin has expressed deep concerns about Trump’s tariffs behind closed doors, he’s supported the president’s trade agenda in public and in negotiations with Chinese counterparts.