c.2019 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday he was trying to determine who in the IRS wrote a draft legal memo concluding that he must release President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress and he insisted that he disagreed with its findings.
Speaking at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Mnuchin said that he became aware of the memo this week after the Treasury Department received inquiries from reporters about a leaked copy of it. He said that he had not reviewed the memo, but that he believed it did not contradict his reasoning for denying the request from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years’ worth of Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
“The memo is marked draft, it is not a final memo,” Mnuchin said.
The draft memo determined that the IRS had no choice but to honor congressional requests for Trump’s tax returns unless he invoked executive privilege to protect them.
Mnuchin said he believed the memo does not address the concerns that his legal team expressed when it decided to defy the request. Mnuchin has refused to comply with the Democrats’ requests because he said they lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose.”
Mnuchin reiterated that he had followed the guidance of lawyers from his department and the Department of Justice who determined that the Treasury should not release the returns.
Mnuchin said that it would be “unlawful” for him to fulfill the congressional request and he rejected the suggestion that he was breaking the law by not turning over the tax returns.
“I’ve been advised I am not violating the law,” Mnuchin said.
The Treasury secretary also faced questions from lawmakers about the administration’s trade negotiations with China, which he acknowledged are foundering.
After talks broke down, Trump renewed his trade war with China, raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of imported Chinese goods and threatening to hit nearly all the rest with a tax. That has prompted concern from many American businesses that rely on Chinese products, including retailers like Walmart, which have said prices will increase as a result.
Mnuchin said that consumers would feel little pain from the tariffs because companies such as Walmart would source their products from other countries and because the Chinese currency will depreciate, making China’s goods even cheaper to purchase.