Appearing before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, May 21, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reported his department’s progress with an on-going U.S. currency redesign—clarified that the priority was to address the issue of counterfeiting and then addressed issues concerning the president’s tax returns.
Some members of the committee desired an update on the currency redesign and had mistakenly understood that imagery reflecting diversity in historical contribution was the primary reason for the redesign when in fact it was to improve security by making it more difficult for criminals to produce counterfeit bills.
Mnuchin said, “So, let me comment that the primary reason we’ve looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues. Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out till 2028. The $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand. So, the answer is it is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features. The ultimate decision on the redesign will most likely be another secretary down the road.”
Apparently Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) was confused about this primary reason and mistakenly thought that the secretary had made a decision supporting a design featuring Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill when in fact no decision had been made nor was it likely to occur before 2026 under a different secretary of the Treasury.
Pressley asked, “Do you support Harriet Tubman being on the $20 bill? To which Mnuchin replied, “I’ve made no decision that relates to that, and that decision won’t be made until 2026. … Again, it’s not a decision that is likely to come until a way past my term, even if I served the second term for the president. So I am not focused on that at the moment.”
Meanwhile, the secretary continued, explaining that he did not know who wrote a confidential Internal Revenue Service legal memo saying tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president asserts executive privilege, and that as of Wednesday he was not aware of the existence of such a memo until reporters from The Washington Post made inquiries about it.
He said, “I became aware of that memo when we got an inquiry from The Washington Post and it was just recently published. I’m not sure who the author of that was but I’ve seen it in The Washington Post.”
While Mnuchin has so far refused to turn over the president’s tax returns based on a 1924 law that gives Congress the power to request the returns of any taxpayer subject to constitutional protections, he noted that it was a draft document, and he believed he was following the law by refusing to turn over the tax returns, which have been requested by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) Furthermore, he expected the dispute to ultimately be decided by the courts.
Mnuchin also told lawmakers that he had not discussed the issue with President Trump, who has said repeatedly that he can’t turn over his taxes because he is under IRS audit but has yet to assert executive privilege to protect his returns.
Rep. Lance Gooden, (R-Texas) said, “Well I want to thank you for your work. I want to thank you for standing up for the American taxpayer. I don’t believe that tax returns should be used for political purposes and I believe you share that, Republicans certainly share that when they were in power in the House a few months ago. And I want to encourage you to continue fighting for the American taxpayer and thank you for your work.”
Finally, Mnuchin assured the committee that the political weaponizing of the IRS is a concern of the Treasury Department and said, “Again I think this is a very important issue. And you know I would just say, we have tried to be responsive to Congress on hundreds if not thousands of requests for information. On this one request, we’ve been advised that there are different legal views and this is why it will most likely go to the third branch of government. And if, if the third branch of government opines on Congress is right then we would obviously supply the documents. Our issue is we want to make sure that that the IRS is not weaponized for any party.”
Includes reporting from the Associated Press.