So when questions were raised as to whether he wanted his name on millions of stimulus checks sent to Americans last year, it not only seemed plausible, but it also sparked a storm of criticism from politicians. democrats.
The documents provide a behind-the-scenes look as the Trump administration sought to take credit for the payments. And for the first time, the government released images showing versions of the checks that weren’t severed – including those with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s name alongside Trump’s.
At the end, “President Donald J. Trump” appeared under the words “Economic Impact Payment” on the note line of the final version of the checks, which were sent to 35 million Americans.
Unlike Trump, President Joe Biden’s name did not appear on a new round of stimulus checks that began to come out this spring, although like Trump, Biden signed a letter sent to Americans advising them of the payments.
The inclusion of Trump’s name on actual checks last year – which experts believed to be unprecedented – sparked controversy as the president ran for re-election.
Critics accused Trump, who has made a career of brandishing companies under his own name, of trying to take credit for an aid package Americans were relying on amid an economic crisis .
At the time, Mnuchin said it was his idea to include the president’s name, and when a newspaper article raised concerns that the decision could delay payments, the Internal Revenue Service refuse there was a hold-up.
In fact, emails obtained by ABC News in connection with a Freedom of Information Act request show that officials went to great lengths to generate mockups of what the checks would look like.
ABC News obtained the emails after suing the Treasury Department to expedite the release of communications related to the inclusion of Trump’s name. The department provided key emails just five days before Trump left office in January, when he only shared images of the check with ABC News last week.
The Journalists’ Committee for Press Freedom represented ABC News in the lawsuit.
Mnuchin’s name, alongside Trump, appeared on some of the draft check images. In the end, the secretary’s nickname didn’t make it to the final version.
But the Treasury Department declined to share some emails from senior officials in which they discussed what would appear in the note line.
Dozens of hidden parts hide key exchanges and even the names of those who send and receive emails. It is not clear from the unredacted portions who the idea was to include Trump’s name.
Several emails the department provided to ABC News showed the rush sparked by the decision to add the president’s name.
Just days before the payments were made, a senior Treasury official, David Lebryk, requested a new mockup. That day, April 9, 2020, another official thanked his colleagues “for turning the tide so quickly” as they emailed them about the font size.
Then, late the next day, Lebryk emailed the head of the Internal Revenue Service to tell him that they had chosen the final language. The IRS, which is part of the Treasury Department, was in charge of distributing the payments.
“The secretary told us he would like the note line on Economic Impact Payments to be consistent with the attached image,” the official, David Lebryk, wrote to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
Rettig said he needed formal confirmation before he could continue; Lebryk replied the next afternoon that “it was a direct instruction from the secretary”.
Two days later, on April 13, Rettig again requested confirmation that Mnuchin himself was ordering the IRS to include Trump’s name on the line of the memo. Baylor Myers, who was Mnuchin’s deputy chief of staff, responded late that night: “Yes”.
The next day, the Ministry’s Financial Service Office updated its mockup to reflect the change.
In another email to Treasury officials, Rettig confirmed that the Washington Post reported that he and other IRS officials were “not aware” of the decision to put Trump’s name on. checks until later in the process.
Amidst the back and forth, at the end of April 14, the Post reported that the decision to include Trump’s name would likely delay the issuance of the checks; the newspaper quoted anonymous officials.
This story ricocheted through the Treasury Department, Mnuchin quickly emailed it to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Capitol Democrats blasted the administration, accusing Trump to hurt Americans in need and demanding More information.
The IRS quickly denied that there would be a delay. Direct deposit payments began hitting bank accounts the next day – April 15 – and checks bearing Trump’s name followed later in the month.
It’s not clear from emails the Treasury Department provided to ABC News who exactly thought of including the president’s name in the first place.
The post office reported, citing anonymous administration officials, that Trump had privately suggested to Mnuchin that he wanted to officially sign the checks. But past practice required an official to sign them instead.
The president was asked about this report and denied wanting to sign the checks.
“No. Me sign? No,” he mentionned at a press conference on April 3. “There are millions of checks. I will sign them? No. It’s an initiative of the Trump administration. But do I want to sign them? No.”
Later, on April 15, he mentionned he was “unsure” of the decision to include his name.
“I’m not sure, but I understand my name is there,” he said at another press conference. “I don’t know where they’re going, how they’re going. I understand that it does not delay anything. And I am satisfied with it. I don’t – I don’t imagine that’s a big deal. I’m sure people will be very happy to get a big, beautiful check with my name on it. “
Then, a few days later, Mnuchin said he had thought about it.
“We put the president’s name on the check,” Mnuchin said at an April 19 conference. interview with CNN. “It was my idea. He’s the president, and I think he’s a great symbol to the American public.”