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Chris Riotta
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 11 April 2019 20:32
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Stephen Miller's uncle says Trump's immigration rhetoric 'demonises asylum seekers & stirs racist hatred'

US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin has failed to release Donald Trump's tax returns in time to meet a deadline demanded by House Democrats as the president continues to insist, incorrectly, that he cannot do so himself because his affairs remain “under audit”.

“The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power,” Mr Mnuchin wrote in a letter to House Ways and Means committee chairman Richard Neal.

He said the Department of Treasury respects lawmakers’ oversight duties and would make sure taxpayer protections would be “scrupulously observed, consistent with my statutory responsibilities” as the department reviews the request.

Mr Neal said in a statement that he “will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response to the commissioner in the coming days.” Under the law, the IRS commissioner is required to provide access to any taxpayer’s returns when directed by the chairmen of the House or Senate tax-writing committees.

Mnuchin said Neal’s request raised important questions of “constitutional scope of congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

He quoted Capitol Hill Republicans in calling the request “Nixonian” and warned that it could set a precedent for disclosing personal tax information for political purposes.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr Trump weighed in, telling reporters that he won’t agree to release his returns while he is under audit.

The president said, “I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit.” The IRS says there’s no rule against subjects of an audit from publicly releasing their tax filings.

Neal asked the IRS last Wednesday to turn over six years of the president’s tax returns within a week. Mr Trump has broken with decades of presidential precedent by not voluntarily releasing his returns to the public.

The president has meanwhile called for an inquiry into the “attempted coup” against him, attacked the EU over Brexit on Twitter and marvelled at the sheer size of Texas on a trip to San Antonio.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 09:15
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Wednesday has come and gone without the Treasury Department delivering Donald Trump's tax returns.

In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department hasn't decided whether to comply with the demand and said the Treasury will consult with the Justice Department and "carefully" review the request further. Neal asked for Trump's returns a week ago. 

"The legal implications of this request could affect protections for all Americans against politically-motivated disclosures of personal tax information, regardless of which party is in power," Mnuchin wrote. 

He said the Treasury respects politicians' oversight duties and would make sure taxpayer protections would be "scrupulously observed, consistent with my statutory responsibilities" as the department reviews the request. 

 

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump weighed in, telling reporters that he won't agree to release his returns while he is under audit. 

"I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit," the president said, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says there's no rule against subjects of an audit from publicly releasing their tax filings. 

 

Neal asked the IRS last Wednesday to turn over six years of the president's tax returns within a week. Trump has broken with decades of presidential precedent by not voluntarily releasing his returns to the public. 

The president's position has long been that he is under audit and therefore could not release his returns. But in recent weeks, he has added to the argument, saying publicly and privately that the American people elected him without seeing his taxes and would do so again. 

"Remember, I got elected last time - the same exact issue," Trump said. "Frankly, the people don't care." 

The president has told those close to him that the attempt to get his returns were an invasion of his privacy and a further example of the Democratic-led "witch hunt" - which he has called special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation - meant to damage him. 

Trump has repeatedly asked aides about the status of the House request and has inquired about the "loyalty" of the top officials at the IRS, according to one outside adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. 

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 09:26
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Democrats didn't expect the Treasury to comply but haven't sketched out their next steps.

Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan, speaking before Mnuchin's response was delivered, said it may take Neal a couple of days to issue his own response.

Neal has adopted a methodical approach to seeking Trump's returns. He has the option of eventually seeking to subpoena the records or to go to court if Treasury does not comply, but it's not clear he'll adopt a more confrontational approach just yet.

Neal's initial letter, sent a week ago, didn't lay out any consequences for the IRS if it didn't comply, and a spokesman said a likely course would be a second, more insistent, letter.

"We intend to follow through with this," Neal said on Wednesday. "I'll let you know fast."

The request for Trump's tax filings is but one of many oversight efforts launched by Democrats after taking back the House in last fall's midterms. Neal is relying on a 1920s-era law that says the IRS "shall furnish" any tax return requested by the chairmen of key House and Senate committees.

Mnuchin told lawmakers that his department will "follow the law," but he hasn't shared the department's interpretation of the statute.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 09:35
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Speaking to reporters at the White House yesterday before jetting out for Texas, President Trump called for an inquiry into the "attempted coup" against him, referring to FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump camp and Russia to secure the 2016 presidential election, the final report into which he admits he has not read.

Those remarks in full:

"This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted take-down of a president. And we beat them. We beat them.

"So the Mueller report, when they talk about obstruction we fight back. And do you know why we fight back?

"Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.

"What I'm most interested in is getting started, hopefully the attorney-general, he mentioned it yesterday.

"He's doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.

"Because this was an illegal witch hunt, and everybody knew it. And they knew it too. And they got caught. And what they did was treason."

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 09:40
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The aforementioned attorney-general, William Barr, yesterday completed two days of interviews on Capitol Hill answering questions on the Justice Department's budget and the Mueller report before the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees and accused US intelligence agencies of spying on Trump in 2016.

"I think spying did occur," he told senators. "But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I am not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated… I am not suggesting those rules were violated, but I think it is important to look at that. And I am not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence more broadly.”

This remark was the moment Barr, a recent Trump appointee, "obliterated any remaining chance that he can now be seen as a good faith arbiter of the Mueller report" and made a nonsense of his "honest broker persona", in the opinion of CNN's Stephen Collinson.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi was even more damning.

Bloomberg meanwhile reported on Wednesday that Barr has already assembled a team to review decision-making within the FBI, an investigation that will include actions taken to probe ties between the Trump camp and the Kremlin under Robert Mueller.

Here's Chris Riotta's report.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 09:53
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The comments by the president and his attorney-general echo calls from the Republican camp for a retaliatory examination of the "Witch Hunt" and alleged anti-Trump bias at the heart of the Justice Department, which have grown and grown since Barr's letter to Congress on 22 March declared the special counsel had reached a "no collusion" verdict. A jubilant Trump hailed the outcome as "a complete and total exoneration". It absolutely wasn't.

“Once we put the Mueller report to bed, once Barr comes to the committee and takes questions about his findings and his actions, and we get to see the Mueller report, consistent with law, then we are going to turn to finding out how this got off the rails,” Senator Lindsey Graham threatened in an interview with Fox News on 28 March, voicing the anger of many Trump loyalists.

US conservatives have long believed that leaked text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page revealed a shady deep state plot in place to thwart the election of Trump in 2016, with the Mueller investigation its inevitable next stage.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 10:07
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Here's the latest conspiracy theory encircling an ever-more paranoid presidency.

Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has released an interview transcript with ex-FBI general-counsel James Baker in which the latter claims two of Trump's own cabinet members were open to invoking 25th Amendment to remove the president on the grounds that he was unfit for office.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 10:09
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In the wee small hours of the morning, Donald Trump lashed out at the EU over Brexit, responding to the news the UK would be given a "flextension" to 31 October to sort out its nightmarishly chaotic divorce from continental Europe.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis to put the president's thoughts in context.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 10:15
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Trump was on characteristic form in San Antonio, Texas, yesterday, marveling at the sheer size of the Lone Star State and scaremongering about violence as a way of life in the West.

Trump later signed an executive order on energy and infrastructure at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in the town of Crosby.

The order has been characterised as a means of stopping states rebelling against unwanted power projects by using a loophole to deny permits on water safety grounds. Republicans have accused local administrations in New York and Washington states of blocking pipelines by exploiting the provision in the Clean Water Act.

Trump's order would bring more interest groups into the conversation and weaken the grip of local lawmakers.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 10:35
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He also took time out to shake the hand of one George P Bush, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and grandson of the late Barbara Bush, whom the president was viciously critical of only last week following the publication of negative remarks she made about him in a new biography, The Matriarch by Susan Page.

Joe Sommerlad11 April 2019 10:38

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