In a thunderously unsurprising development reflecting his boss’s announced determination to reject all congressional subpoenas, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Ways and Means Committee to turn over the president’s tax returns, as The Week reports:
Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) subpoenaed Mnuchin for Trump’s tax returns last week and gave him a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to hand them over. Just minutes before that deadline hit, Mnuchin sent a letter to Neal saying his “unprecedented” demand “lacks legitimate legislative purpose,” and so he wouldn’t be fulfilling it. The next step for Democrats in getting the returns is a lawsuit, Tax Policy Center expert Steve Rosenthal tells The Washington Post.
Despite the delays in making this announcement, and the description of the request as “unprecedented,” it’s pretty clear Mnuchin wouldn’t have complied even if the subpoena had arrived with an endorsement from the Founding Fathers. Not if he wanted to keep his job. So yes, it’s off to court for the administration and Congress on yet another dispute involving the administration’s efforts to stonewall the co-equal Legislative Branch, as the New York Times explains:
At a Senate hearing this week, Mr. Mnuchin said that House Democrats were trying to “weaponize” the I.R.S. He said that he had not yet decided how he would respond to the subpoena, but that “you can guess which way we are leaning.” He said that the judiciary, as the third branch of government, would most likely need to settle the dispute between Congress and the executive branch, signaling the potential for a protracted court fight.
The idea, of course, is that by the time the litigation has reached a crescendo, Trump will either be into a second term in office, still immune from federal prosecution, or back in Mar-a-Lago counting his money and lawyering up.
The Times also reports that Neal has annoyed some of his colleagues by ruling out a contempt citation or any other consequences for Mnuchin’s defiance other than the admonition that we’ll see you in court:
“I don’t see what good it would do at this particular time,” Mr. Neal told CNN, when asked about the possibility of contempt proceedings. “I think if both sides have made up their minds, better to move it over to the next branch of government, the judiciary.”
That did not sit well among Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, who have consistently pushed a more aggressive approach toward getting Mr. Trump’s returns. Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, argued on Friday that the committee should still consider fines and other possible forms of punishment for defying the subpoena.
“What this does, going to court, is absent the Congress from their own responsibilities,” Mr. Pascrell said. He added, “I think that’s a very dangerous position for us to be in.”
That reflects the internal argument among House Democrats on the whole range of presidential and administration misconduct and refusal to disclose information: Do you go to every length to hold them directly accountable, a determination that will inevitably lead to impeachment, or turn to the courts and eventually the 2020 electorate for relief from this scofflaw and his subordinates?
That question is getting harder to sidestep with each new act of Executive Branch defiance.