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Mnuchin denies that an IRS memo contradicts his position on Trump’s taxes. Spoiler: It does.

The Treasury Secretary’s first public comments about a leaked IRS memo were unconvincing.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies To The House On State Of The International Financial System
Mnuchin during Wednesday’s hearing.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin doesn’t think an internal IRS memo that says the agency has a legal obligation to turn over Trump’s tax records to Congress contradicts his position that he has no legal obligation to do so — or so he told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

Asked by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) about the memo, which was first reported on by Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey at the Washington Post and says disclosure of the president’s tax returns “is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs,” Mnuchin flatly insisted it doesn’t contradict his position that turning the returns over isn’t mandatory.

“You are at least aware that the conclusion of that [IRS] memo directly contradicts the conclusion that you’re relying upon?” Wexton asked him.

“No, I actually don’t believe that’s the case,” Mnuchin said. “That memo I understand is addressing a different issue and is not addressing the issue that we and the Department of Justice looked at.”

While Mnuchin didn’t specify the “issue” he and the DOJ “looked at” in that exchange, he seemed to be referring to his position that the IRS isn’t obligated to comply with a subpoena issued by House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) for Trump’s tax returns because the request lacks a “legitimate legislative purpose.” But the IRS memo clearly states that the legislative branch doesn’t need such a purpose.

“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee . . . to state a reason for the request,” it says, adding that the “only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

During other parts of Wednesday’s hearing, Mnuchin claimed that he was completely unaware of the memo prior to the Washington Post reaching out to the Treasury Department for comment about it earlier in the week. But at the close of the hearing, committee chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) indicated she doesn’t buy it.

“I just wanted to take this moment to allow you to modify, to change, to expound, to do whatever is necessary to make sure that you were comfortable with your statement about never having seen it prior to the time that you indicated, never having discussed it with anyone in the White House, outside of the White House, legal counsel, advisers, etc.,” she told Mnuchin. “I just want to make sure.”

Mnuchin told Waters that he is working with the DOJ to expeditiously release a memo further explaining his legal rationale for refusing to comply with Neal’s subpoena. Mnuchin has said he made his decision after consulting with the IRS and DOJ but so far has not detailed his reasoning.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Wexton provided Mnuchin with a civics lesson of sorts, reminding him that “we’re the legislative branch, so we make decisions about legislating ... and you’re the executive branch ... which executes the laws.”

“You don’t make the laws, right? We make the laws,” Wexton said — her point being that Mnuchin doesn’t have legal basis for refusing to comply with a subpoena grounded in a 1924 law that says the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” tax returns to Congress upon request.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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