WASHINGTON — The work to redesign the $20 bill and affix an image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman as its centerpiece was well underway before the Trump administration delayed the plans, according to a new report from the New York Times.

Efforts to redesign the bill were advanced enough for officials at the Secret Service and government engravers to review a metal engraving plate and a digital image of the Tubman mock-up as recently as May 2018, the report said.


This 1860-75 photo shows abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is calling “completely erroneous” a report published Friday that an initial 2020 deadline for completing the design of the $20 bill featuring Tubman could have been met. Harvey B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP

The report cited current and former sources at the Treasury Department, which oversees the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The Times also included a preliminary image it obtained from a former Treasury official, completed in late 2016, of what a new $20 bill could look like, featuring Tubman “in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf,” the report said.

The bureau disputed these events and said that new Secret Service agents routinely visit the bureau for training purposes. “A training class would never be in the position to review a preliminary currency design, let alone something advanced,” a spokesman said.

A delay in the redesign of the $20 bill was motivated by concerns of a potential backlash from President Trump, according to the Times report: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin chose a timeline extending beyond Trump’s presidency to avoid the possibility of an explosive controversy, fearing that the president who has disparaged the redesign would cancel the plans altogether.

In a statement to The Washington Post on Friday, Mnuchin said the development of security and anti-counterfeiting measures first dictates the redesign process. “In the case of the $20 bill, that timetable is consistent with the previous Administration and has not been changed. As Secretary, my first responsibility is to ensure all security and anti-counterfeiting measures are properly taken in accordance with BEP’s mandates. The suggestion that this process is being stalled is completely erroneous.”

The director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Len Olijar said in a statement that “No Bureau or Department official has ‘scrapped’ anything; it is too early to develop an integrated concept or design until security features are finalized.” He added, “Everything remains on the table.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Mnuchin announced that Tubman would not replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill next year, a planned change initiated by the treasury secretary in the Obama administration that carried historical significance. Tubman, a 19th-century abolitionist leader, was destined to take the lofty position from the nation’s seventh president, a slaveholder.

Mnuchin said during congressional testimony that the delay of the new $20 bill was prompted by security concerns pushing the government to first release the redesigns of the $10 and $50 bills. Mnuchin would not say whether he supported keeping Tubman on the new $20 bill, which under the revised timeline, would be left to whoever holds the treasury secretary position in 2026. That timetable would keep the Trump administration out of the final decision, even if the president wins a second term.

During the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump described the Tubman redesign as an act of “pure political correctness.”

Earlier this week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, urged Mnuchin to reconsider the delay and to place Tubman’s likeness on the $20 bill immediately. As a formerly enslaved person who led hundreds of others to freedom, Tubman had “more than earned her place among our nation’s most pivotal leaders,” Hogan wrote in a letter to the treasury secretary. “She deserves this honor.”

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