The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday threatened to hold up Treasury Department nominees unless the agency responds to requests for information about President Donald Trump’s personal tax returns.
“If the Treasury Department refuses to answer our questions, I am prepared to again place a hold on department nominees as I did previously when routine requests for information went unanswered,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote. “Congress needs to take action to force the administration to comply with oversight.”
Trump has broken with decades of presidential precedent by refusing to make his personal tax information public, and has retained his interest in the Trump Organization while in office.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for six years of Trump’s tax returns, citing Department of Justice legal advice. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal has requested the documents under an obscure statute that grants the heads of tax-writing committees access to tax returns for oversight purposes.
Trump has several nominees to the Treasury Department currently waiting for Senate confirmation, including agency general counsel Brent McIntosh, who has been nominated to be Treasury undersecretary for international affairs. Other nominees include Brian McGuire, nominee for assistant secretary for legislative affairs; Michael Faulkender, the nominee for assistant secretary of economic policy; Brian Callanan, the nominee for general counsel and Geoffrey William Seiji Okamoto, nominated for deputy undersecretary.
In his letter, Wyden recounted previous instances where the tax-writing committees on a bipartisan basis have obtained tax return information.
He said the Finance Committee had asked the IRS more than a dozen times for return information related to executives at failed energy company Enron as well as to various tea party groups that were seeking tax-exempt status, among other examples.
“I am not aware of any cause in which an IRS commissioner failed to provide the requested information promptly and completely, including cases that were politically controversial, such as the ACORN and tea party investigations,” wrote Wyden in the letter. “Further, I am not aware of any case in which the IRS or Treasury Department questioned the Chairman’s authority to obtain the requested tax return information.”
Treasury’s response to Wyden said Neal’s request was “categorically different” than previous instances. That letter, written by Mnuchin legislative adviser Justin Sok, restated the secretary’s public message that such a request by Neal had raised “serious constitutional questions” and could have “serious consequences for taxpayer privacy.”