(CNSNews.com) - "We have a president who's bragged about not paying taxes," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.
Van Hollen asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin if he agrees that Congress "has an interest in verifying that the IRS is fairly enforcing the law and making sure the president, who is in charge of the Executive Branch...is paying the taxes he owes."
Mnuchin said Congress has a "legitimate interest" in being sure that the IRS is performing its function properly as it relates to any taxpayer.
But he said the request made by the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of President Trump's personal and business taxes will set a precedent that goes way beyond any one president or any one Congress. Mnuchin noted that the “the weaponization of the IRS…can be used against anyone. And on this request, we have carefully reviewed this with the Department of Justice and we’ll be responding.”
Van Hollen interrupted, going all the way back to the Warren G. Harding administration, where a senior official received special treatment by the agency that later became the IRS.
Van Hollen also said President Richard Nixon was found to have underpaid his taxes. The IRS had signed off on Nixon's tax returns, but a congressional committee later determined that Nixon owed over $400,000.
"So, Mr. Secretary, I ask you again, given that history, doesn't Congress as a separate branch of government have an interest, a legitimate interest, in determining whether or not the IRS is enforcing the tax laws with respect to the president of the United States?” Van Hollen asked.
Mnuchin replied: “The answer is that there is a difference in interpretation between Congress and us and the Department of Justice around this law that not only impacts this president and this Congress, but has a very big impact on every single taxpayer in weaponizing the IRS.
“And this is why there are three branches of government, so if there is a difference of opinion, this will go to the third branch of government to be resolved.”
Subcommittee chair Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), exercising his prerogative as subcommittee chair, told the hearing he was stuck on the word "legitimate interest."
Let's say I'm interested in the IRS and I'm interested in what kind of job its doing. So I think I’d like to see, as a United States senator, some tax returns.
Let me think. How 'bout you send me all the tax returns from every candidate among my Democratic friends running for president of the United States.
Now, I'm not interested in it for political reasons. I just want to study the IRS. And I think I'll start with these returns.
How much confidence do you think the American people would have in the Internal Revenue Service and the privacy concerns if we start doing that in this country?
“I think it would be very dangerous to provide you with those returns,” Mnuchin said. “I think it would also be very dangerous to provide you with returns of large Democrats or Republicans who made political gifts, or leaders of industry, or leaders of labor unions.”
Mnuchin repeated that this is an "unprecedented issue, it's a very complicated issue” that will be resolved by the courts.