WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department said it would not hand over President Donald Trump's tax returns by Wednesday, the deadline congressional Democrats gave in their request, instead, saying it would consult with the Justice Department to ensure the law and Constitution is followed.
In a two-page letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote that the department was reviewing the documents and the law to "ensure that taxpayer protections and applicable laws are scrupulously observed" and noting that "the Treasury Department will not be able to complete its review of your request" by Wednesday.
"The Department respects Congressional oversight, and we intend to review your request carefully," Mnuchin wrote, noting the "unprecedented nature" of the request and the potential issues that could arise, such as using personal tax returns for malicious and political purposes.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump told reporters he would not allow his tax returns to be handed over.
"I’m not gonna do it while I’m under audit," Trump told reporters at the White House, though congressional Democrats said the law does entitle them to review tax records.
Trump said Democrats are digging for dirt, even though "my finances are very clean."
The president has said for years he would not release his taxes because they are under audit, but that is not a legal requirement; he could release his returns whether they were under audit or not.
In an April 3 letter to the IRS, Neal, D-Mass, cited a law allowing Congress to review individual tax returns for legislative purposes. His committee, Neal wrote, is "considering legislative proposals and conducting oversight related to our Federal tax laws."
It was the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years.
Neal is one of only three congressional officials authorized under a rarely used 1924 law to make a written request to the treasury secretary for anyone’s tax returns. The law says the treasury secretary “shall furnish” the requested material to members of the committee for them to examine behind closed doors.
William Consovoy, a lawyer for the president, sent a four-page letter to the Treasury Department on Friday blasting the request and arguing that making Trump's tax returns available would violate the law.
"This request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech," Consovoy wrote in the letter. "Chairman Neal wants the President's tax returns and return information because his party recently gained control of the House, the President is their political opponent, and they want to use the information to damage him politically."
Mnuchin, in his letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, noted the concerns related to this request, including from Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chariman of the Senate Finance Committee. In his position, Grassley is also allowed under law to request an individual's tax returns.
Mnuchin noted that Grassley said the request for Trump's returns was not for "legitimate legislative purpose" and "Nixonian to the core." Mnuchin also acknowledged that the last Congress, controlled by Republicans, called such a request "an abuse of authority" that would "set a dangerous precedent."
"The Committee's request raises serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of Congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens," Mnuchin wrote. "The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power."
If the IRS, which is housed under the Treasury Department, and refuses Congress' request for Trump taxes, the House Ways and Means Committee may consider a subpoena for them, teeing up a likely court battle for the documents.
Trump aides, meanwhile, have indicated they are willing to go to court to test whether lawmakers have the constitutional right to review individual returns.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Treasury Department says it won't hand over Trump's tax returns on time, asks for extension