Posts tagged with "Letter"

Dems demand Trump tax returns from IRS—forcing Mnuchin to choose between fealty and duty

April 8, 2019

Although President Donald Trump claims that nobody’s interested in his tax returns—and that they are under audit anyway, so they cannot be released—House Democrats are through taking “no” for an answer—and last week, they set the stage for a major face-off with both the White House and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) formally requested President Trump’s personal and business tax returns on April 3, setting up what will likely become a protracted and high-profile legal battle between the administration and Congressional Democrats, The Hill reported.

Specifically, in a letter to the IRS, Neal requested Trump’s personal income taxes from 2013 to 2018, as well as the tax returns associated with eight of his business entities, and cited his oversight role to justify the request.

“Under the Internal Revenue Manual, individual income tax returns of a President are subject to mandatory examination, but this practice is IRS policy and not codified in the Federal tax laws,” Neal wrote in the letter, which was first obtained by CNN. “It is necessary for the committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return.”

Mnuchin—a loyal Trump insider—now “will have to balance his loyalty to Trump against a request that many experts say leaves him little wiggle room,” The Hill noted. As head of the department that comprises the IRS, Mnuchin will face pressure from Trump and congressional Republicans to push back on Democrats’ request.

“[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office—whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president,” commented Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, who testified before Congress in February about the need to request Trump’s tax returns.

Trump — the first president in decades to not voluntarily disclose any of his returns—quickly indicated his disdain for the request. “Until such time as I’m not under audit I would not be inclined to do that,” he said  last Wednesday.

When asked on April 4 if he would direct the IRS to not disclose his returns, Trump said, “They’ll speak to my lawyers and they’ll speak to the attorney general.” 

As is to be expected, Republicans leaders are critical of the request. The top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), argued in a letter to Mnuchin on April 3 that the request is “an abuse of the tax-writing committees’ statutory authority,” and he said it weakens Americans’ right to have their personal information kept private, The Hill reported.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the next day that courts have ruled that congressional requests for information need to have legitimate legislative purposes, and that he believes the Democrats have fallen short on that front.

“They don’t have a purpose,” he said, according to The Hill. “All they have are a lot of excuses.”

Mnuchin said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing last month that the Treasury Department would “follow the law and we will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.”

The Treasury Department has not commented on the tax returns request since it has been issued.

“Secretary Mnuchin should have no involvement in responding to Chairman Neal’s request for President Trump’s tax returns,” Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said in a statement on April 4, adding, “Tax returns are held at the IRS and it is Commissioner [Charles] Rettig’s job to fulfill the agency’s legal obligations. If Secretary Mnuchin inserts himself that would be blatant political interference.”

Both Mnuchin and Rettig are scheduled to testify at congressional hearings this coming week, and lawmakers are likely to press them about their response to Democrats’ tax-return request. Democrats and supporters of the request say there’s no good reason for the administration to not comply.

Democrats also took issue with Trump’s comments about not providing his returns while under audit, arguing that the statute under which they requested the tax returns doesn’t leave the matter up to him.

“With all due respect to the president, we did not ask him for the tax returns, we asked the commissioner of the IRS,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Ways and Means Committee member, told The Hill on Thursday.

Republican strategists predict that Mnuchin will get involved and that it will be an easy decision for him to reject Democrats’ request.

“You’ve never seen a Cabinet secretary at that level not fight for the administration,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill. He predicted that Mnuchin is likely to let the issue end up in the courts.

Research contact: @thehill

Opposition to Kavanaugh escalates among voters, especially women

September 24, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh is facing mounting backlash to his Supreme Court nomination, especially among women—turning his hearings and confirmation vote into the most polarized judicial battle in more than a decade, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on September 20 has found.

Kavanaugh—who is embroiled in a controversy over sexual-assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford—is also the first court nominee in Journal/NBC polling dating to 2005 to draw more opposition than support among voters.

According to a report by the Journal late last week, the poll found that 38% of registered voters oppose the Kavanaugh nomination, up from 29% in a Journal/NBC poll last month. Some 34% said they support his nomination, which is about the same as in last month’s poll. More than one-quarter of voters say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.

The poll was taken Sept. 16-19, after Blasey-Ford ‘s letter, accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, was released to the FBI by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California).

Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been debating the terms of a hearing that would draw testimony from the nominee and his accuser.

Kavanaugh’s weak support among women could have political ramifications in an election year in which suburban women are considered an important, swing voting group, the Journal reported. While men split 41% to 33% in favor of the Kavanaugh nomination, support among women was far lower, with 28% favoring the nomination and 42% in opposition.

College-educated women are particularly sour on. Kavanaugh: 49% of them oppose his nomination, while 28% support it.

Analyzed by party, the difference of opinion is wider than for any other nominee since 2005, with 66% of Democrats opposing the Kavanaugh nomination and 73% of Republicans supporting it.

Research contact: @hookjan

A ‘downer’ for federal employees: Trump cancels pay raises

September 4, 2018

President Donald Trump told Congressional leaders on August 30 that he intends to cancel a pay raise for civilian federal workers that is due next January—saying the nation’s budget cannot support it, according to a report by CNN.

In a letter to House and Senate honchos, Trump described the pay increase as “inappropriate.”

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the President wrote.

An across-the-board 2.1% pay increase for federal workers was slated to take effect in 2019. In addition, a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where a worker is posted-—the “locality pay increase”—was scheduled to take effect.

Trump said both increases should no longer happen, CNN reported, noting that, in ordering the raises canceled, Trump cited his statutory authority to adjust pay because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.” Yet the President frequently touts a growing US economy, including a strong growth rate for the gross domestic product and low unemployment

“These numbers are very, very sustainable — this isn’t a one-time shot,” he said last month after figures showed the US economy grew at a 4.1% annual rate in the second quarter of the year.

“I have determined that for 2019, both across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases will be set at zero,” he wrote.

However, the POTUS’s decision is not binding: Congress has an opportunity to effectively overrule the President’s edict if lawmakers pass a spending bill that includes a federal pay raise. The Senate passed a bill this summer that included a 1.9% raise for federal workers. The House’s version did not address federal pay. Senate and House negotiators will negotiate a final measure in the coming weeks, CNN said.

Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, released earlier this year, included a pay freeze for civilian federal workers. It is not clear if Trump would approve a budget from Congress that includes the pay increase; the White House has not issued a formal veto threat of the Senate’s bill.

In his letter, Trump claimed that a pay freeze would not affect the federal government’s ability to attract qualified workers, and said that the government would focus on “recruiting, retaining and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets.”

The implications of Trump’s decision on the locality pay increase were not immediately clear. Workers based in more expensive parts of the country are paid higher salaries to compensate for the higher cost of living.

In his letter, Trump wrote the locality increase in 2019 would have averaged 25.70% and would have cost the federal government $25 billion. But he did not say whether the locality adjustments already in place would remain in effect and the White House did not immediately clarify.

Reaction on Thursday from Democrats was swift—particularly those from states adjacent to Washington, D.C., where large numbers of federal workers reside.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), wrote: “Let’s be clear: The President’s decision to cancel any pay increase for federal employees is not motivated by a sudden onset of fiscal responsibility. Today’s announcement has nothing to do with making government more cost-efficient. It’s just the latest attack in the Trump administration’s war on federal employees.”

Research contact: @Kevinliptakcnn

Evidence of cell phone spying found near White House

June 1, 2018

A Department of Homeland Security study has detected evidence that controversial surveillance technology—intended to pick up cell phone calls and texts—was in operation near the White House and at other sensitive locations in the nation’s capital last year, The Washington Post reported on June 1. .

The DHS program found the surveillance devices, called IMSI catchers, as part of federal testing last year, according to a letter  from the agency to Intelligence Committee member Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) dated May 22.

The letter did not specify what entity operated the devices and left open the possibility that there could be alternative explanations for the suspicious cellular signals collected by the federal testing program.

The discovery bolsters years of independent research, The Post said, suggesting that foreign intelligence agencies use sophisticated interception technology to spy on officials working within the hub of federal power in the nation’s capital.

Experts in surveillance technology say that IMSI catchers—sometimes known by the popular brand name, StingRay—are gizmos that are used by many foreign intelligence services, including Russia and China.

“This admission from DHS bolsters my concern about stingrays and other spying devices being used to spy on Americans’ phones,” Wyden said in a statement on May 31. “Given the reports of rogue spying devices being identified near the White House and other government facilities, I fear that foreign intelligence services could target the president and other senior officials.”

The DHS letter came in response to a meeting last month in which Wyden pushed for a more aggressive federal response to cellular system insecurity. IMSI catchers are widely used by local, state and federal police, as well as foreign intelligence agencies.

The same May 22 letter revealed that DHS was aware of reports that a global cellular network messaging system, called SS7, was being used to spy on Americans through their cell phones. Such surveillance, which can intercept calls and locate cell phones from anywhere in the world, are sometimes used in conjunction with IMSI catchers.

Wyden’s fears about the White House are based in reality: The president and his aides have used cellphones extensively for communications. While there have been no polls about how the U.S. electorate feels about this unsafe practice, in January, a Morning Consult/Politico poll, of 1,988 registered voters, found that 65% of self-identified Republicans said that the Department of Justice should its investigation into personal cell phone usage for official emails, texts and phone calls.

Hillary Clinton was investigated extensively for her personal cellphone usage while she was Secretary of State. In fact, Trump declared repeatedly during his 2016 presidential campaign that Clinton’s email “negligence”disqualified her to be president.

In January 2016, The Washington Post reported that he said the email scandal was “a disaster for Hillary Clinton. At a minimum, how can someone with such bad judgment be our next president?”

He also released this zinger in July 2016, the Post reported:  “Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team ‘were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.’ Not fit!” His refrain continued throughout the summer.

Even after being elected, Trump demanded that the Justice Department look into Clinton’s emails to determine whether she committed a crime. His supporters still chant “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

Research contact: craig.timberg@washpost.com