Maxine Waters just sparred with Trump’s Treasury Secretary in fiery House hearing

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There is an enormous amount of material that Democrats in Congress want to get their hands on right now — the unredacted Mueller report and all its underlying evidence and the President’s elusive, long-promised tax returns chief among them.

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Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to avoid providing his political rivals with the materials they need to determine if the president’s suspicious behavior is predicated by a desire to cover up incriminating politically and legally damaging evidence of criminality or merely the product of a willful and rapidly deteriorating psyche.

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Today, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters put Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — one of the cabinet members most directly involved in the struggle to obtain the president’s tax returns — on the witness stand before her committee.

Congresswoman Waters wasted no time in getting straight to the point and immediately asked Mnuchin whether he would be complying with the committee’s request for copies of six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns by tomorrow’s deadline.

With the law perfectly clear in its language stating that the chairs of certain Congressional committees can privately examine anyone’s tax returns to conduct an investigation — and stating that “the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified” — Secretary Mnuchin was forced to take immediate evasive action.

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“I want to acknowledge we have received the request,” Mnuchin said, failing to give Representative Waters the reassurance she was seeking. “As I said before, we will follow the law. We are reviewing it with our internal legal department and I would leave it at that.”

With Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney having already spent the weekend declaring that the public would NEVER see the details of  the president’s taxes — and Trump’s phony “you’ll see them when the IRS finishes its audit” excuse proven to be just another one of his many lies — Congresswoman Waters went straight for the Treasury Secretary’s jugular with her next question, coming during a week that the White House is in the middle of a major personnel shakeup with the involuntary departures of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen and the head of the Secret Service, among others.

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She asked Mnuchin if he was afraid of being fired if he followed the law and gave Congress the requested returns.

“I’m not afraid of being fired at all,” Mnuchin — estimated by Forbes two years ago to have a  net worth of $385 million — answered.

With the Treasury Secretary unwilling to give any other indication as to whether the Democrats will need to issue a subpoena to begin a legal battle with the Executive Branch to obtain the requested taxes, the hearing began to get tense, with an argument breaking out between Rep. Waters and Secretary Mnuchin over his request to end the hearing before all of its members had a chance to ask their questions so he could return to the Treasury Department to meet with a foreign leader.

Chairwoman Waters chastized Mnuchin, saying that “no other secretary has ever told us the day before that they were going to limit their time” testifying.

“You’re ordering me to stay here …. that’s not what I want to do,” Mnuchin replied. “I’ve just been advised that I’m under no obligation to stay … I’ve withdrawn my offer to voluntarily come back.”

Knowing that the law was on her side, Waters decided to wait until the deadline for delivering Trump’s tax returns to Congress had passed before pressing the issue any further.

“You may choose to do whatever you want,” she shot back.

The hearing with Waters’ House Financial Services Committee was Secretary Mnuchin’s second interrogation of the day.

Appearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Treasury to defend his department’s budget allocation, Mnuchin was asked by Chairman Mike Quigley (D-IL) whether he had had any communications with the White House regarding the release of the president’s taxes.

“I have not spoken to the White House chief of staff or the president about this decision,” he replied, before indicating that, in fact, the legal team in the White House had spoken with the Treasury Department lawyers for “purely informational” purposes.

The Treasury Secretary then went on to parrot the administration’s stance on the release of the subject of so much speculation.

“There is a requirement for presidents to have financial disclosure. I believe this president has complied with that, as other people, and the general public when they elected President Trump made the decision to elect him without his tax returns being released, Mnuchin said, forgetting that Trump actually lost the popular vote.

By tomorrow we’ll know whether Trump and his Treasury Department will trigger a constitutional crisis by refusing to follow the law and give Congress the required information.

Given the machinations over the release of the unredacted Mueller report, perhaps it may not be wise to take any bets on President Trump suddenly being forthcoming.

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In the meantime, you can watch video clips of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s appearance before the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Representative Maxine Waters in the excerpts below.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.

Original reporting by John Parkinson and Sophie Tatum at ABC News.

Vinnie Longobardo

Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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