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Refusal to turn over Trump tax returns sets up legal battle

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday rebuffed claims by House Democrats that his refusal to comply with a congressional request for President Donald Trump's personal tax returns is a violation of the law. Though other Congressional committees "must include a goal for their request for returns and return information when seeking access", the House Ways and Means Committee, along with the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation, does not have to provide a reason for requesting tax information.

The secret and previously undisclosed 10-page IRS memo states that handing over Trump's tax returns "is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs".

Asked by a House Democrat if the memo contradicts Treasury's denial of the request, Mnuchin said: "I actually don't believe that's the case". "We confirmed that I and the (IRS) commissioner were not aware of that letter and had not seen it".

Current legislation "does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met", the memo concludes, adding that "the Secretary's obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing state a reason for the request". He maintained the Justice Department had assured him it would be "unlawful" for him to deliver Trump's tax returns, according to Axios. Mnuchin told a Senate panel last week that Treasury officials would be willing to help members of the Ways and Means Committee examine the process without seeing the President's returns - an offer the secretary said the committee hasn't accepted yet.

Mnuchin told US lawmakers he did not know who in the Internal Revenue Service had written the draft memo, which concluded that tax returns must be given to lawmakers unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege.

A Treasury spokesman said that no one in the agency's leadership had seen the IRS' memo and reiterated that the decision to withhold Trump's financial records was based on advice from the Justice Department.

Trump also likely wanted to keep his tax returns hidden thanks to the 1990 and 1991 worst businessman in America revelations unearthed by the NYT.

The White House and the president's attorneys declined to comment on the deadline to turn over Trump's returns.

Trump has said the White House will be "fighting all the subpoenas" issued by congressional committees conducting oversight investigations on his administration. But that would not prevent Trump from releasing them if he so chose. Fights with other House panels are ongoing.