Democrat: Treasury 'acknowledged the unprecedented process' in Trump tax return rejection

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Democratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices MORE (D-Ore.) said Thursday that the Treasury Department “acknowledged the unprecedented process” that led to it rejecting House Democrats’ request for President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE’s tax returns.

In a letter sent to Wyden on Wednesday, Treasury told the senator that it was not aware of any case prior to the request for Trump’s tax returns where a Treasury secretary had directly responded to a congressional request for tax returns. 

Treasury also said that it was not aware of any previous case where the department consulted with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) on a specific congressional request for tax returns, and it was not aware of any previous case where Treasury documented its legal analysis about whether a request had a legitimate legislative purpose.

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“Taken together, this confirms that the Treasury Department has diverged from standard procedures in this case,” Wyden said in a statement. “From where I sit, the goal is to protect the president.”

Treasury said that sees the request for Trump's tax returns as different from other congressional requests for tax returns.

In a letter sent to Wyden in late June, the department said that as far as it's aware, the request for Trump's returns is the only request for the returns of a single individual taxpayer since 2005. There were two other cases when the returns or return information of individual taxpayers had been requested, but in those cases Congress wanted to investigate allegations of taxpayer mistreatment, Treasury said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Senate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Krystal Ball accuses Democrats of having 'zero moral authority' amid impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Mass.) in April requested six years of Trump’s tax returns from the IRS.

Neal said the committee is interested in oversight and legislation related to the IRS’s enforcement of tax laws against a president.

The request was made under section 6103 of the federal tax code, which states that the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” tax returns requested by a chair of a congressional tax committee so long as return information associated with a specific taxpayer is reviewed in a closed session.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Supreme Court temporarily blocks House subpoena of Trump financial records | Trump touts 'cordial' meeting with Fed chief | Stopgap funding measure includes census money, military pay raise McConnell backs 'clean' stopgap spending bill through Dec. 20 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE in May rejected the request and a subsequent subpoena, saying Neal lacks a legitimate legislative purpose for the tax returns. Earlier this month, the Ways and Means Committee filed a lawsuit in an effort to get the documents.

Wyden had sent the Treasury Department a letter in May requesting information in an effort to investigate whether any political interference was involved in the rejection of the request for Trump’s returns.

Wyden said that he found Treasury’s initial response to be “misleading and incomplete,” which had led him to put a hold on nominees for department positions. But Treasury subsequently provided Wyden with more information in the late June letter and Wednesday’s letter.

Wyden said that he is lifting his holds on three Treasury nominees since he has now received answers from the department to his questions. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse MORE (R-Iowa) announced Wednesday that the committee will hold a hearing next week on several Treasury nominations, including that of Brent McIntosh to be an undersecretary in the department. McIntosh is currently Treasury’s general counsel and has been involved in the department’s handling of the request for Trump’s tax returns.

Wyden said that he wants to ask the nominees “directly about their involvement in this and other troubling episodes.”

Wyden’s questions in his May letter to Treasury included whether the Treasury secretary, as opposed to the IRS commissioner, had ever previously responded to a tax-return request, whether OLC had ever been consulted before about a request, and whether Treasury or the IRS had ever previously determined that a request lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.

Treasury said in its letter Wednesday that it is unaware of another situation where a Treasury secretary directly responded to a request, but was unaware of another request that “presented serious constitutional questions that extend well beyond the internal revenue laws.”

Treasury said that its unaware of OLC being consulted about a specific tax-return request, but that the office had published a legal opinion about the scope of the tax-code provision Neal cited in 1977. The department also said it’s “not uncommon” for agencies to informally consult with OLC.

Treasury said that it’s “unsurprising” that the department hadn’t in the past documented an analysis about whether a congressional tax-return request had a legitimate legislative purpose. The department said it was unaware of a previous request “for which there was a voluminous public record indicating that the committee’s purpose was to release confidential tax information to the public.”

The department also said that there have been past instances where Congress’s tax committees requested tax returns as part of inquiries relating to topics of legislative interest.

“This debunks the popular Republican talking point that 6103 is only used for big-picture statistical data,” Wyden said.

Treasury did say in its June 27 letter to Wyden, however, that the vast majority of tax return disclosures made to Congress are statistical studies and other data products that are provided to the Joint Committee on Taxation for statistical purposes. The requests from JCT don't identify specific taxpayers.

Wyden had also asked Treasury for any documents the department has received from the White House or Trump’s personal legal team. Treasury told Wyden in June that the only such documents the department is aware of are two letters from Trump’s personal lawyer that were already public.

Additionally, Wyden had asked Treasury for information about discussions department officials had about how to handle Neal’s request for Trump’s tax returns. Treasury said in their letter Wednesday that it is declining to provide these materials “because they are predecisional and deliberative, and we do not believe they are needed in order to evaluate the Department’s decision on this matter.”

updated at 4:43 p.m.