Wyden threatens nominee holdups after Mnuchin blocks Trump taxes

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been “unresponsive” to questions about his refusal to hand over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress, Senator Ron Wyden said.

Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said Thursday he received a reply to a letter he sent to Mnuchin earlier this month asking why he and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig haven’t complied with House Democrats’ requests for six years of Trump’s personal and business tax documents.

The response, which Wyden called “wholly unacceptable,” could prompt him to block Treasury Department nominees from getting Senate approval, he said.

"Congress has a constitutional obligation to conduct oversight of the executive branch,” Wyden said in a statement. “Congress needs to take action to force the administration to comply with oversight."

Mnuchin, in a letter to Wyden dated Tuesday, said House Democrats’ request for the tax returns is “unprecedented” and raises “serious constitutional questions,” adding that the Justice Department advised him to refuse. Democrats argue that the law is clear that he is legally required to hand over the documents.

Sen. Ron Wyden
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, speaks during a news conference after a weekly caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol.

Wyden, as a Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate, has few mechanisms to force Mnuchin to release the tax returns. By holding up Trump’s Treasury Department nominations, he could deprive Mnuchin of key staff as the department seeks to resolve a trade dispute with China and grapples with sanctions on Iran.

One nomination that could be in flux is Brent McIntosh, currently the Treasury’s general counsel, who Trump nominated last week to serve as undersecretary for international affairs.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who is leading the tax return charge in the House, invoked his power to request six years of Trumps’ returns in April, saying he needed them to properly oversee the IRS’s routine audits of every president and vice president.

That kicked off a months-long stand-off in which Mnuchin first delayed and then denied Neal’s request, claiming that the chairman’s stated purpose was just a pretext for a political attack. Last week, Neal subpoenaed the Treasury Department for the documents, which Mnuchin declined to hand over. The dispute is expected to soon move to the courts.