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Treasury watchdog will investigate Trump administration delay of $20 Harriet Tubman bill

Key Points
  • The internal watchdog at the Treasury Department will investigate the department's controversial decision to delay redesigning the $20 bill with a portrait of Harriet Tubman, the former slave who helped free dozens of other slaves.
  • The probe by Treasury's inspector general came in response to a letter sent by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, whoasked if the eight-year delay in switching the bill's image from that of President Andrew Jackson was spurred by political considerations by the Trump administration.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in May said that the planned release of the new $20 bill with Tubman's image would be delayed from 2020 — as originally planned by the Obama administration — until 2028, after President Donald Trump leaves office.
Harriet Tubman, circa 1870
HB Lindsey | Underwood Archives | Getty Images

The internal watchdog at the Treasury Department will investigate the department's controversial decision to delay redesigning the $20 bill with a portrait of Harriet Tubman, a former slave who helped liberate dozens of other slaves on the Underground Railroad, according to a letter released Monday.

The review by Treasury's inspector general came in response to a letter sent by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

Schumer last week had asked the watchdog if the eight-year delay in switching the bill's image from that of President Andrew Jackson was spurred by political considerations by the Trump administration.

Acting Inspector General Rich Delmar, in a letter to Schumer that the senator released, said the inquiry into the delay will take about 10 months to complete, and will be part of an audit of work by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's process of currency note design and counterfeiting deterrence features.

"The timeline for issuing new notes is not a political process, and the timeline for issuing a new $20 note remains consistent with the prior Administration's," a Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement to CNBC. "As the Department and Bureau of Engraving and Printing have consistently stated, the only consideration with regard to the redesign schedule of our Nation's currency has been security and potential counterfeiting threats."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in May said that the planned release of the new $20 bill with Tubman's image would be delayed from 2020 — as originally planned by the Obama administration — until 2028, after President Donald Trump leaves office.

"The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues," Mnuchin said during a hearing in May before the House Financial Services Committee.

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There will be no Harriet Tubman $20 bill in the near future

"Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028. The $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand."

But The New York Times reported in mid-June that current and former Treasury Department officials said Mnuchin opted to delay releasing the bill to avoid the possibility of Trump cancelling the decision to put Tubman on the bill.

Mnuchin denied that to The Times, saying "Let me assure you, this speculation that we've slowed down the process is just not the case."

Schumer, in a statement Monday, said "I'm pleased the inspector general will review this matter and hope it is conducted in an expeditious fashion."

"There are no women, there are no people of color on our paper currency today, even though they make up a significant majority of our population, and the previous administration's plan to put New Yorker Harriet Tubman on the $20 note was a long overdue way to recognize that disparity, and rectify it," Schumer said.

"The motivation for the Trump administration's decision to delay the release of the new note has not been credibly explained, and the inspector general's review must get to the bottom of this."

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump told NBC's "TODAY" show, "I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic," but said he did not "like" replacing Jackson on the $20 billion with Tubman.

"I think it's pure political correctness," said Trump, who after being elected put a painting of Jackson in the Oval Office.

He suggested in 2016 that Tubman's image be placed on the $2 bill, which are not widely circulated.