Steven Mnuchin

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Legal

Mnuchin suggests Trump tax-return fight headed for court

Updated

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested today that he will reject House Democrats’ subpoena for President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and that the issue is headed for the courts.

Appearing before a Senate panel, Mnuchin was highly critical of the Democrats' demand, saying it would lead to a “weaponization” of the IRS.

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“We haven’t made a decision, but I think you can guess which way we’re leaning on our subpoena,” Mnuchin told lawmakers.

“There is a difference in interpretation between Congress and us and the Department of Justice around this law,” he said. “This is why there are three branches of government so if there is a difference of opinion this will go to the third branch of government to be resolved.”

“I think it’s better that we have the court’s interpretation if there is a difference than establishing precedent that is weaponizing the IRS,” he added.

Mnuchin’s comments come as the administration faces a May 17 deadline to hand over the president’s personal filings for the past six years, along with some from his businesses, to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. He is seeking the documents under a 1924 law allowing the heads of Congress’s tax committees to examine anyone’s private tax information.

The Massachusetts Democrat issued a subpoena for the records last week, after Mnuchin denied Neal’s previous demands for the records.

The administration has been widely expected to reject the subpoena — it has been fighting similar demands from Democrats across a number of issues — and the dispute is likely to be settled by the courts.

Mnuchin said he'd formally reply to the subpoena by Neal's Friday deadline. He also said Trump has not told him how to handle the demand.

“I have not had any discussions with the president or taken any direction from him or anybody else in the White House on this issue,” he told an appropriations subcommittee.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday sent Mnuchin a letter asking him to turn over any communications Treasury has had with the White House or with Trump’s personal lawyers related to the request for the returns.

Trump has a defied a decades-old tradition of presidents and White House contenders voluntarily releasing their tax returns.

Democrats say they need the president’s filings to answer many questions about his personal finances as well as to vet a long-standing IRS policy of automatically auditing the returns of all presidents and vice presidents. Republicans say Democrats want to search Trump’s filings for things they can use to embarrass him.

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