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Ross: Does Steve Mnuchin know the definition of ‘shall’?

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, has issued a letter explaining that the IRS cannot lawfully provide President Trump’s tax returns. Because the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.

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That has surprised many people, because the language of the law on this says “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means … the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return…”

So I checked with the various online dictionaries — both American and British. And they all agree. The word “shall” is used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory.

So then I double-checked with reporter David Fahrenthold at the Washington Post.

“The law says he shall do it,” he told me.

No wiggle room.

“The law says if the congressional committee asks the treasury secretary shall produce the document,” he said.

As for Secretary Mnuchin’s demand that there be a legislative purpose?

“That loophole does not exist in the law. So he’s breaking the law,” Fahrenthold said.

That doesn’t seem likely — that a high government official would try to break the law. All I can think is that there must exist somewhere a Supreme Court ruling re-defining “shall” as meaning not “mandatory,” but “optional.”

Then again, wait a minute! The Ten Commandments just got a whole lot easier to follow! But it does sort of ruin the Second Amendment.

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