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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Banking Committee's top Democrat tussled with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a hearing on Thursday over the flow of information from his agency, and later asked if President Donald Trump, a Republican, had ordered him to restrain communications with Democrats.
"Are you aware of any White House guidance formal or informal urging administration officials not to respond to or to delay in responding to Democratic senators?" Senator Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democrat, asked Mnuchin toward the end of the hearing.
"I am not," Mnuchin answered.
Brown said earlier in the hearing that he had written to Mnuchin on March 2 asking about "potential conflicts of interest and ownership in the administration," but did not receive a response. He then pressed Mnuchin to send the committee "a complete list of Trump business associates and financial ties."
Mnuchin said that before the hearing he had checked that Treasury staff "had fully responded to all the inquiries from you and the committee" and asked Brown to send a note reminding him to deliver the list.
While other senators began questioning Mnuchin, the two took the argument off-line, with Treasury emailing reporters a brief statement saying that it had responded to Brown's letter on March 31.
Brown's office then circulated the response it had received, which generally discussed compliance with conflict of interest laws and lacked any details. Brown's office said Treasury's brief letter had not answered his questions.
The senator also did not seem reassured that Treasury was not dragging its feet in communicating with Democrats.
After he asked about possible guidance from the White House, Brown pressed: "Will you commit to responding to...members of both parties of this committee in a timely manner to all requests for information?"
"I will," Mnuchin responded.
A Treasury spokesman did not replay to questions about any formal or informal White House orders on communication.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler