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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a very nice letter last night to House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) to inform Neal that no, despite a federal law saying the IRS "shall" provide tax returns on request from the chair of Ways and Means, that isn't going to happen. No, not even though Neal pointed to the law and said "Mother May I" as well. So get ready for the whole shebang to head to the courts, and for Republicans to bluster about how this is exactly like Richard Nixon demanding the IRS harass everyone on his enemies list, because potential tax crimes by the "president" of the United States are none of Congress's business.

Mnuchin sent the letter to advise Neal the IRS wouldn't be meeting the midnight deadline for turning over six years of Trump's tax returns and other documents. Which is an interesting fact in itself, given that Neal's letter saying GIVE IT was sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, not Mnuchin, who is quite the butt-insky. As Neal's letter states, the relevant law (§6103 of the Internal Revenue Code) is pretty darn unambiguous on how that works:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request[.] [Emphasis added.]

Not "shall, if you think we have a good reason" or "Shall if it proves politically useful to Republicans who think the IRS is targeting conservative groups" or even "shall if [anything]." Nonetheless, Mnuchin explained to Neal that Congress has already considered whether it can see Trump's taxes -- or at least the Republicans did, in 2017 -- and daintily decided it's definitely none of Congress's business. Gosh, Mr. Chairman, don't you remember, Republicans already settled that question?


We begin with an awareness of Congressional concerns already raised regarding this inquiry. In the last Congress, the Committee on Ways and Means issued a formal report concerning a House resolution of inquiry seeking information substantially similar to the information you request. The Committee determined that such a request would be an "abuse of authority" and "set a dangerous precedent by targeting a single individual's confidential tax returns and associated financial documents for disclosure" for political reasons.

Why, yes, that's a Republican citing a partisan defense of Donald Trump to insist that it would be very very bad and partisan to allow any examination of the Republican president's taxes. Further, Mnuchin explained, that 2017 denial of Democrats' request to examine Trump's taxes even made up some imaginary rules over how the law -- passed in the 1920s following the Teapot Dome scandal -- is even allowed to be used!

The Committee recognized that section §6103(f) may not be used "for purposes of embarrassing or attacking political figures of another party."

Just to be clear, nothing in the law says that, although Neal's letter was careful to emphasize non witch-hunty reasons for examining Trump's taxes. Also too, "shall."

Just to let Neal know what a horrible thing this is, Mnuchin also cited a recent floor speech by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who fretted that Neal's request for the tax documents lacked the necessary "legitimate legislative purpose" (also not in the law) and were "Nixonian to the core." Mnuchin pointedly reminded Neal that as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley "shares the same section 6103(f) authority as you," so why are YOU being a big jerk about it, huh? Then, somewhere in San Clemente, the corpse of Richard Nixon muttered, "Thanks a lot, guys, I love you too."

Neal, for his part, indicated in a super-brief statement that he wouldn't even be replying to Mnuchin, but to the IRS commissioner, because did he send his letter to Mnuchin he did not. "I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response to the commissioner in the coming days."

The New York Times reports Neal is

expected to send a follow-up letter demanding the tax returns and outlining potential next steps, which could include a subpoena or a lawsuit.

And yes, of course this should all eventually end up at the Supreme Court, possibly before the end of Trump's term, possibly after. When that happens, it should certainly be interesting to see exactly how the "textual originalist" justices appointed by Trump twist themselves into pretzels insisting that "shall" has a lot of nuance and ambiguity.

[Vox / NYT / US Treasury Spokesperson Tony Sayegh on Twitter]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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