The New York Times- The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating how the department handled a congressional request for President Trump’s tax returns, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to turn over.
The investigation is in response to a request from Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has been leading congressional efforts to gain access to Mr. Trump’s financial information. Mr. Trump is locked in a legal battle with House Democrats over the fate of his tax returns and Mr. Mnuchin, one of his closest aides, has said that the House demand is not legitimate because it lacks a true legislative purpose.
Mr. Neal asked the inspector general’s office “to inquire into the process by which the department received, evaluated, and responded to the committee’s request for federal tax information,” said Rich Delmar, the Treasury Department’s acting inspector general. “We are undertaking that inquiry.”
The inquiry comes amid new concerns about political interference in the handling of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which — like those of all presidents — are subjected to a mandatory audit. An Internal Revenue Service whistle-blower filed a complaint over the summer claiming that senior Treasury officials tried to exert improper influence over the audit.
The full nature of that complaint remains unclear. According to a government official familiar with its contents, it claims that political appointees in the Treasury Department were pressuring I.R.S. officials to ignore the requirement to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s returns.
In his letter, Mr. Neal, who has requested six years of Mr. Trump’s federal returns, raised concerns about the possibility of meddling.
“I want to be assured that Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service, is enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner and no one is endeavoring to intimidate or impede government officials and employees carrying out their duties,” Mr. Neal wrote.
The complaint could support the argument by House Democrats that their interest in examining the presidential audit process has merit and is not driven by politics, as the administration has claimed.
Mr. Neal initially told Mr. Mnuchin about the complaint in August. Mr. Mnuchin said he would refer the matter to the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, which oversees the I.R.S.
Under a provision of the federal tax code, the Ways and Means Committee chairman is entitled to request information on any taxpayer from the I.R.S. The code states simply that the agency “shall” furnish the material.
Mr. Mnuchin, in consultation with the Justice Department, determined that the request lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose.” In refusing to turn over the tax returns, he warned that House Democrats were trying to weaponize the I.R.S. and embarrass the president.
A person familiar with the complaint said that the allegations did not directly implicate Mr. Mnuchin. The secretary, however, has been a fierce defender of Mr. Trump’s privacy and in 2017, he urged the former I.R.S. commissioner, John A. Koskinen, to do whatever was necessary to ensure that the returns remained secure.
While the courts will determine whether the Treasury Department, which oversees the I.R.S., is following the law, the review by the inspector general could shed light on the machinations that led Mr. Mnuchin to his legal conclusion.