Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that his department intends to "follow the law" and is reviewing a request by a top House Democrat to provide President Donald Trump's tax returns to lawmakers.
Mnuchin also revealed that Treasury Department lawyers have talked to the White House counsel's office about the question of releasing Trump's returns, telling lawmakers that the consultations occurred before the request arrived last week. Mnuchin said the conversations were "purely informational" and he has not been briefed on their content.
But Mnuchin told a House panel that he personally has not had any communications with the president or his top staff about the department's decision on whether to provide Trump's tax returns under a nearly century-old that says the Treasury Department "shall furnish" them when requested.
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"It is our intent to follow the law and that is in the process of being reviewed," Mnuchin told a House Appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for his budget.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in a Sunday show appearance that lawmakers will "never" see Trump's returns.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., requested the returns last week in a letter to Mnuchin that set a deadline of Wednesday to provide them. Mnuchin says he "looks forward to responding" but it appears clear that Treasury won't meet the deadline.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig faces off with the same panel Tuesday afternoon.
Neal requested six years of Trump's personal and business returns , relying on a 1924 statute that says the Treasury Department "shall furnish" them when requested. The IRS is part of Treasury.
Trump has broken with tradition by not voluntarily releasing his tax returns. He routinely says — as he did Friday — that he's under audit and therefore won't release his returns. But IRS officials have said that taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns.
GOP members of the panel rose to Trump's defense.
"We have no evidence of anything nefarious. We have no evidence that there's any wrongdoing," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who said the request tramples on Trump's right to privacy. "The only this works is if the American people trust the IRS and trust this information will be held private. And if it's not, if that's violated then people will quit complying."
Democrats want access to the returns as part of investigations into Trump's business dealings and his campaign. Trump's private attorneys have asked Treasury to deny the request as well.
During the 2016 campaign, Rettig defended Trump's decision to break with tradition by refusing to release his tax filings. Under questioning at his confirmation hearing last August, Rettig pledged to uphold the political independence of the IRS.