Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Trump defenders argue president can't be removed for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.) hammered the Justice Department on Friday over a legal opinion it wrote backing the Treasury Department’s defiance of a House subpoena for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE’s tax returns. 

“What is the President hiding in his tax returns? And since when does 'shall' mean 'unless it displeases Trump?'" the House Intelligence Committee chairman tweeted late Friday.

"And, perhaps more importantly: What will be left of DOJ’s independence and reputation for impartial justice after Barr? The answer? Very little,” he added.

Schiff's comments came after the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday released a legal opinion backing up Treasury's decision to reject a request by congressional Democrats for six years of Trump's tax returns.

The opinion followed after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last month rejected a subpoena from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) demanding Trump's personal and business tax returns from 2013 through 2018.

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Neal had sought Trump's tax returns through a provision of the federal tax code that states that the Treasury secretary "shall furnish" tax returns sought by the chairs of Congress's tax committees if the documents are viewed in a closed session.

However, both the Justice and Treasury Departments say Neal’s request is political in nature and believe his intent is to publish the tax returns. 

“No one could reasonably believe that the Committee seeks six years of President Trump’s tax returns because of a newly discovered interest in legislating on the presidential-audit process,” Justice Department wrote in its legal opinion Friday. “The Committee’s request reflects the next assay in a longstanding political battle over the President’s tax returns.” 

Neal, meanwhile, has said it is improper for Treasury or DOJ to second guess a congressional committee's conclusion about its need to see the tax returns — an argument DOJ criticized.

The department went on to specifically cite a provision of the federal tax code that bars unauthorized disclosures of tax returns. 

The fight for Trump’s tax returns is one of a number of feuds between House Democrats and the administration over congressional oversight. The White House has battled with Democrats over subpoenas for testimony and documents regarding probes into a controversial 2020 census citizenship question and potential obstruction of justice inquiries related to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE's Russia investigation.