House Democrat presses Mnuchin on 'alleged rampant corruption' at Treasury

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE (D-N.J.), on Tuesday pressed Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPhase-four virus relief hits a wall On The Money: Senate aims to quickly approve more small-business aid | Dems seek conditions on new funds for small-business loans | Pelosi says next round of relief will top T House GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans MORE on "alleged rampant corruption" at the department, after The New York Times reported that Mnuchin instructed the department to take an action that benefited former "junk bond king" Michael Milken.

In a letter addressed to Mnuchin, Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, chided the secretary, warning him that the government does not exist for the benefit of its higher-ups. 

"It should go without saying that the United States government is not a piggy bank to be looted for the sole benefit of the President and his friends. Yet this is not only what is occurring in your department, but it is happening at your direct supervision."

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE's tax-cut legislation created a program called "opportunity zones," under which individuals and businesses who make investments in designated distressed areas can receive capital gains tax breaks. Opportunity zones have received some bipartisan support, with backers hoping that it can help to revitalize low-income communities. But the program has also faced criticism that is primarily helping wealthy investors and will provide little benefit to low-income people.

Pascrell said in his letter that the opportunity zone program has a "noble goal," but that the goal isn't "being fully realized as the program, much like the rest of the tax scam law, has been perverted to profit the super-rich, including Donald Trump’s relatives and other friendly associates."

The New York Times reported Saturday that the Treasury granted an opportunity zone designation to an area in Nevada last year — after having previously determined that the area was ineligible — at the instruction of Mnuchin.

The area includes land co-owned by Milken, and the decision to grant the area opportunity zone status came after Mnuchin spent time with Milken, the Times reported.

Pascrell asked Mnuchin to provide him with information about his interactions with Milken and the decision to grant opportunity zone status to the Nevada area.

"More generally: do you see your job as protecting the interests of the entirety of the American people or a handful of plutocrats and personal friends?" Pascrell asked. "Do you think it is appropriate for the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States to seek special favors for one of the most prolific financial criminals in world history? To begin to get to the bottom of corruption within your department, we need answers to these questions."

In a statement over the weekend, Treasury spokeswoman Monica Crowley called the Times story "highly inaccurate and deeply misleading." She said that Mnuchin had no knowledge of Milken's investments in the Nevada county and that Treasury considered adding the tract as an opportunity zone at the request of public officials in the state.

"Nevada identified a discrepancy between the Opportunity Zone nomination instructions and an IRS revenue procedure governing the program," Crowley said. "Nevada asked Treasury to consider a nomination that complied with the revenue procedure. The IRS and Treasury concluded that Nevada's request was permissible and, after appropriate review, approved the nomination."

Milken also blasted the Times story, saying in a letter Sunday that he "played no role in any recommendations to any government officials regarding changes in opportunity zone regulations."

Pascrell isn't the only Democrat who has criticized the Trump administration in the wake of the New York Times story.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president MORE (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted the Times article on Saturday, saying "when we defeat Trump, we’re going to end this tax scam [and] invest in working-class communities that have been fleeced."

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation Wisconsinites put lives on the line after SCOTUS decision Officials sound alarm over virus relief check scams MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement Monday that "this is an egregious example of corruption that demands a serious congressional investigation." 

This story was updated at 7:13 p.m.