For those of you who are C-Span junkies, pop some popcorn and get ready for some key oversight hearings today. Must see TV!
Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Bond villain Steve Mnuchin, on Tuesday will be grilled by House lawmakers in back-to-back hearings, where questions about how he plans to handle a formal request for Mr. Trump’s tax returns are expected to take center stage. Mnuchin Enters Hot Seat as Battle for Trump’s Tax Returns Escalates:
A congressional request for President Trump’s tax returns has put one of his most loyal aides, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, at the center of what is shaping up to be an extraordinary legal battle between two branches of the United States government.
A decision on whether to turn Mr. Trump’s tax returns over to Congress is expected to fall to the Internal Revenue Service and Mr. Mnuchin, whose Treasury Department oversees the tax collection agency. While Mr. Mnuchin has been fairly cautious in discussing the request, Mr. Trump and his top advisers have made it increasingly clear that they will not allow the president’s tax returns to be released without a fight.
Mnuchin should take a word of sound legal advice from former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The IRS chief must release Trump’s tax returns — and Mnuchin must not stop him:
As best I can determine, the appropriate response of the treasury secretary is very clear: Under a long-standing delegation order, the secretary does not get involved in taxpayer-specific matters and has delegated to the IRS commissioner as follows: “The Commissioner of Internal Revenue shall be responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws.”
Moreover, this is not a delegation that is readily revocable. Federal law provides that if the secretary determines not to delegate a power, such determination may not take effect until 30 days after the secretary notifies the tax-writing (and other specified) committees.
So for the secretary to seek to decide whether to pass on the president’s tax return to Congress would surely be inappropriate and probably illegal.
“I would have indicated to the IRS commissioner that I expected the IRS to comply with the law as always.”
Mr. Mnuchin, one of the longest-serving members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet, has been dogged in recent weeks by questions over his financial ties to the film industry, as well as questions surrounding the Treasury Department’s removal of sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch. Mr. Mnuchin has also been at the center of Mr. Trump’s growing frustration with the Federal Reserve, which he publicly blames for slowing American economic growth. Mr. Trump has aimed much of his criticism at the Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell, whom the president installed to the top job on the recommendation of Mr. Mnuchin.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig should follow the sound legal advice from Lawrence Summers as well. IRS commissioner to face lawmakers on Trump tax returns:
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, asked to deliver President Donald Trump’s tax returns to a Democratic-controlled House panel, is facing off with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the first time since last week’s request.
Rettig is sure to face questions from a House Appropriations Committee panel on the topic Tuesday afternoon. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin squares off with lawmakers in the morning.
The White House has signaled it’ll fight the request.
It is a federal crime for Donald Trump to instruct the IRS to not comply with this congressional request. 26 U.S. Code § 7217. Prohibition on executive branch influence over taxpayer audits and other investigations.
Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., sent a letter to Rettig asking for six years of Trump’s personal and business returns by Wednesday, relying on a 1924 statute that says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” them when requested. The IRS is part of Treasury.
Donald Trump is not worth going to jail for. Turn over his tax records to Chairman Neal by the Wednesday deadline.
Also on the hot seat today is Attorney General William “coverup” Barr. His testimony has already begun. Live Updates: Barr Testifies as Democrats Criticize Handling of Mueller Report:
Appropriations hearings are ostensibly about asking cabinet officials to justify their budgets, but Democrats who lead the House Appropriations Committee were eager to press Mr. Barr on Tuesday on what one called “the elephant in the room”: his handling of the highly anticipated special counsel’s report.
On Tuesday, [Democrats] had their first chance to level criticism in person.
“The American people have been left with many unanswered questions; serious concerns about the process by which you formulated your letter; and uncertainty about when we can expect to see the full report,” Representative José E. Serrano, Democrat of New York and the head of the appropriations subcommittee that covers the Justice Department, said in his opening remarks.
“I think it would strike a serious blow to our system and yes to our democracy if that report is not fully seen,” he added.
Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, called Mr. Barr’s handling of the Mueller report “unacceptable” and questioned how quickly he summarized the findings in his March 24 letter.
“Even for someone who has done this job before,” she said, referring to Mr. Barr’s first stint as attorney general in the 1990s, “I would argue it is more suspicious than impressive.”
Barr is likely to keep the sparks to a minimum.
Mr. Barr was expected to avoid giving any answers that could generate headlines, especially given that his pick for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department, Jeffrey A. Rosen, goes before senators for his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Mr. Barr is likely to decline to answer questions about the Mueller report and instead stick with his budget priorities, which include more money to combat the opioid epidemic, crack down on violent crime and protect the country against national security threats.
Watch for an immigration discussion.
Mr. Barr is requesting an additional $72.1 million for immigration enforcement — an amount that would fund 100 new immigration judges — at a time when Mr. Trump has hardened his stance against illegal immigration and asylum seekers. Over the past two days, he has purged top immigration and security leaders to accelerate that goal.
Lawmakers have demanded that the White House provide answers.
While Mr. Barr said in his prepared remarks that the additional judges will “provide some relief from a critical backlog in the immigration courts,” he also said that the continuing influx of cases along the southwestern border “constrains our ability to manage the backlog of cases, and other reforms are necessary.”
UPDATE: Attorney General William P. Barr said he will deliver the [redacted] Mueller report to Congress and the public within a week, reiterating his earlier promise to release it by mid-April.
We’ll see how much news is made in these oversight hearings by later today.