Before US Congress, Mnuchin testimony descends into acrimony

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the ‘State of the International Financial System’ on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: Lengthy congressional testimony by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin descended into outright acrimony yesterday as a House committee rebuffed his pleas to be dismissed.

“Please dismiss everybody. I believe you’re supposed to take your gavel and bang it,” Mnuchin said, visibly irritated as he approached the second of two appearances on Capitol Hill.

Mnuchin faced grilling before House panels on appropriations and financial services, where Democrats aggressively questioned him over President Donald Trump’s tax returns, sanctions policy toward Russia and his personal finances.

But after testifying in the afternoon for more than three hours before the Committee on Financial Services, he locked horns with Chairwoman Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, who did not adjourn the hearing even though Mnuchin said he was late for a meeting with an official visiting from Bahrain.

“I have a foreign leader waiting in my office at 5.30, okay? I’ve agreed to stay longer. It will be embarrassing if I keep this person waiting for long periods of time,” he said.

“So if this is the way you want to treat me, then I’ll rethink whether I voluntarily come back here,” Mnuchin said.

“If you wish to leave, you may leave,” Waters said, without formally closing the hearing.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Mnuchin replied, ultimately remaining until the hearing was adjourned.

Mnuchin has found himself in the centre of widening disputes between Trump and Democrats, who recently took control of the lower house of Congress and have sought a host of angles of attack for investigations into the president’s administration, finances and ties to Russia.

He has faced distracting entanglements over his own finances and use of government resources. He vowed last week to recuse himself from matters that could affect his wife’s film production company after the Office of Government Ethics declined to certify his financial disclosure, finding he faced a conflict of interest.

In his testimony yesterday, Mnuchin revealed that White House lawyers had been in contact with Treasury officials to discuss an expected request from lawmakers for six years of Trump’s tax returns.

But he rejected Democrat lawmakers’ suggestion that this could have been illegal or improper, saying it was merely a consultation and that he had not personally been involved.

Mnuchin was an early Trump supporter and is one of the longest-serving members in the president’s Cabinet. But he also faces pressure not to let working relations with congressional Democrats, in the Financial Services Committee in particular, deteriorate as they have the power to make his life difficult.

Mnuchin ultimately stayed to answer final questions from committee members about Russia sanctions and other matters.

“Thank you. I look forward to being back in May. We’ll work on a date,” he said.