When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin blocked the release of then-President Trump’s tax returns, it was the first time the IRS failed to turn over tax returns following a congressional request, the IRS informed CREW. It is clear that then-Secretary Mnuchin’s actions to block Trump’s tax returns from scrutiny were unprecedented and against the law, and they have set the stage for the Janet Yellen-led Treasury Department to reverse course and release Trump’s taxes to Congress.
The Internal Revenue Code says that, upon a written request of the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Treasury Secretary shall [emphasis added] provide the committee with any return that it requests. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal did exactly that in 2019, requesting the IRS provide six years of Trump’s tax returns then issuing a subpoena when the IRS did not comply.
Mnuchin famously defied the subpoena by refusing to provide the tax returns, stonewalling Congress for the rest of Trump’s time in office, leading the House to sue to get its subpoena enforced.
After Mnuchin’s refusal, CREW filed a FOIA request asking for documents showing whether the IRS had rebuffed similar congressional requests in the past. When the IRS failed to respond, CREW sued. In the lawsuit, the IRS’s communications with CREW confirmed that Mnuchin’s refusal to provide tax returns was unprecedented. IRS attorneys told CREW that, to the best of their knowledge, the request from Neal was “the only time that the IRS failed to comply with a valid 6103(f)(1) or (f)(2) request,” meaning the type of request Neal used.
The House is still litigating the Trump tax return subpoena in court, and the Biden Administration recently asked a federal court for more time to determine its position on whether the IRS should comply with the subpoena. This should not be a hard call. Yellen should honor the law and precedent by releasing Trump’s tax returns to Congress. Given that Mnuchin’s refusal to comply with the request was unprecedented, the Biden Administration should have no trouble reversing the suspect call made by Trump’s Treasury Department to shield his records from congressional scrutiny.