WASHINGTON — Treasury Department lawyers consulted with the White House general counsel’s office about the potential release of President Trump’s tax returns before House Democrats formally requested the records, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.

Mnuchin had not previously revealed that the White House was playing any official role in the Treasury Department’s decision on releasing Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats are asking for six years of Trump’s returns.

Federal law says the Treasury secretary “shall follow” the request of House or Senate chairmen in releasing tax return information. The process is designed to be walled off from White House interference, in part because of corruption that took place during the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s.

Mnuchin revealed the discussions during a congressional hearing. He said he had not personally spoken with anyone from the White House about the tax returns, but he said that members of his team had.

“I believe that the communication between our legal department and the White House general counsel was informational,” Mnuchin told a House appropriations subcommittee. “We had obviously read in the press that we were expecting this. I personally wasn’t involved in those conversations.”

On April 3, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., requested the returns, both for Trump’s personal income and a range of his businesses. The request was sent to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig. Neal said he wanted the records to be released by April 10, citing federal law that directs the information be released.

On April 5, lawyers for Trump sent the Treasury Department general counsel a letter, telling him not to release the records until the Justice Department has issued a new legal opinion.

Over the weekend, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Democrats would never obtain the tax returns, though he didn’t say how he was sure this would be the case.

Mnuchin, at the hearing on Tuesday, would not say how he planned to proceed.

“It is being reviewed by the legal departments, and we look forward to responding to the letter,” Mnuchin said.

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