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Special Message to the Senate on Protesting Against Proposed Investigation of Bureau of Internal Revenue

April 11, 1924

To the Senate

Herewith is a copy of a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Hon. Andrew W. Mellon, to me, which I feel constrained to transmit to the Senate for its information. Also a copy of the resolution adopted by the committee investigating the Bureau Of Internal Revenue. This is done because it seems incredible that the Senate of the United States would knowingly approve the past and proposed conduct of one of its committees which this letter reveals.

There exists, and always should exist, every possible comity between the Executive departments and the Senate. Whatever may be necessary for the information of the Senate or any of its committees, in order better to enable them to perform their legislative or other constitutional functions, ought always to be furnished willingly and expeditiously by any department. The executive branch has nothing that it would wish to conceal from any legitimate inquiry on the part of the Senate. But it is recognized both by law and by custom that there is certain confidential information which it would be detrimental to the public service to reveal. Such information as can be disclosed I shall always unhesitatingly direct to be laid before the Senate. I recognize also that it is perfectly legitimate for the Senate to indulge in political discussion and partisan criticism.

But the attack which is being made on the Treasury Department goes beyond any of these legitimate requirements. Seemingly the request for a list of the companies in which the Secretary of the Treasury was alleged to be interested, for the purpose of investigating their tax returns, must have been dictated by some other motive than a desire to secure information for the purpose of legislation. The adoption of the resolution already referred to is apparently subject to the same criticism. The Senate resolution appointing this committee is not drawn in terms which purport to give any authority to the committee to delegate their authority, or to employ agents and attorneys. The appointment of an agent and attorney to act in behalf of the United States, but to be paid by some other source than the Public Treasury, is in conflict with the spirit of section 1764 of the Revised Statutes—the act of March 3, 1917.

The constitutional and legal rights of the Senate ought to be maintained at all times. Also the same must be said of the Executive departments. But these rights ought not to be used as a subterfuge to cover unwarranted intrusion. It is the duty of the Executive to resist such intrusion and to bring to the attention of the Senate its serious consequences. That I shall do in this instance.

Under a procedure of this kind the constitutional guaranty against unwarranted search and seizure breaks down, the prohibition against what amounts to a Government charge of criminal action without the formal presentment of a grand jury is evaded, the rules of evidence which have been adopted for the protection of the innocent are ignored, the department becomes the victim of vague, unformulated, and indefinite charges, and instead of a government of law we have a government of lawlessness. Against the continuation of such a condition I enter my solemn protest and give notice that in my opinion the departments ought not to be required to participate in it. If it is to continue, if the Government is to be thrown into disorder by it, the responsibility for it must rest on those who are undertaking it. It is time that we returned to a government under and in accordance with the usual forms of the law of the land. The state of the Union requires the immediate adoption of such a course.


The White House, April 11, 1924.

Calvin Coolidge, Special Message to the Senate on Protesting Against Proposed Investigation of Bureau of Internal Revenue Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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