Democrat lifts hold on Treasury nominees amid ongoing fight over Trump's tax returns
Posted July 18, 2019 4:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 18, 2019 5:00 p.m. EDT
CNN — The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is dialing back his threat to block Treasury Department nominees, saying he will allow hearings on three nominees to proceed.
In a statement, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said Thursday the Treasury Department has "finally cooperated" with his investigation into its handling of a request by House Democrats for six years of President Donald Trump's personal tax returns.
Wyden said the July 17 letter by Justin Sok, senior adviser for Treasury's office of legislative affairs, "acknowledged the unprecedented process that led to its refusal to comply with a lawful request."
In its letter, Wyden said, the agency admitted no Treasury secretary to their knowledge had ever been previously involved in responding to a tax return request under an obscure tax law, known as Section 6103, as Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been involved in handling the response to the request for Trump's returns.
The letter also confirmed that the Office of Legal Counsel had never been formally consulted previously on such a request, and that Treasury had never formally considered whether there was a legitimate legislative purpose behind the tax law.
"Taken together, this confirms that the Treasury Department diverged from standard procedures in this case," Wyden said. "From where I sit, the goal is to protect the President."
Wyden said he wants to question Treasury nominees about the process.
"Given that the department has responded to my oversight questions, I have agreed to allow the nominations hearing for Brett McIntosh, Brian Callanan, and Brian McGuire to move forward so I can ask them directly about their involvement in this and other troubling episodes," said Wyden.
Trump has broken decades of presidential precedent by refusing to make his personal tax information public, and has retained his interest in the Trump administration while in office.
In June, Wyden formally moved ahead with his threat to block any Treasury nominees after Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service failed to adequately answer congressional requests.
Wyden said at the time he had received "non-answers or no responses at all" from both of the agencies on questions about when political appointees learned of a memo prepared in anticipation of congressional request for Trump's tax returns among other queries.
Mnuchin has refused to comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for six years of Trump's tax returns, citing Department of Justice legal advice. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal has requested the documents under an obscure statute that grants the heads of tax-writing committees access to tax returns for oversight purposes.
Trump has several nominees to the Treasury Department currently waiting for Senate confirmation, including McGuire, nominee for assistant secretary for legislative affairs; Michael Faulkender, the nominee for assistant secretary of economic policy; Callanan, the nominee for general counsel and Geoffrey William Seiji Okamoto, nominated for deputy undersecretary.