Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress that the much-anticipated $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman would be delayed by six years for technical reasons, and might not even feature the abolitionist whatsoever. However, a New York Times report reveals that the note was actually well into production before Mnuchin decided to push it aside.
A former Treasury Department official provided the Times with an image of the bill featuring Tubman, which was created by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. On the bill, Tubman wears a coat with a white scarf underneath. According to the Times, the bureau completed the design in late 2016, with a current bureau employee telling the publication that they’ve seen the metal engraving plate and the digital image of the bill as recently as May 2018.
Testifying before Congress during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in May, Mnuchin stated that the 2020 design deadline for the new $20 bill would be delayed because of the complicated security features that the Obama administration had designated for the bill.
However, current and former Treasury officials told the Times that Mnuchin instead delayed the bill himself to cover Trump’s ass in the case the president were to cancel Tubman’s bill altogether. Trump, as a presidential candidate, called the redesign “pure political correctness.”
It appears that Mnuchin’s whole “security” excuse doesn’t check out either. From the Times, emphasis mine:
“There is a group of experts that’s interagency, including the Secret Service and others and B.E.P., that are all career officials that are focused on this,” [Mnuchin] said, referring to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. “They’re working as fast as they can.”
But building the security features of a new note before designing its images struck some as curious. Larry E. Rolufs, a former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said that because the security features of a new note are embedded in the imagery, they normally would be created simultaneously.
“It can be done at the same time,” said Mr. Rolufs, who led the bureau from 1995 to 1997. “You want to work them together.”
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley has become extremely involved in keeping Mnuchin accountable for a project he’s passed along to his successor, even after a second term of the Trump administration.
During Mnuchin’s testimony last month, Pressley asked him several questions about the $20 bill, including if he thought that representation matters in American politics and imagery, if people other than white men have contributed to the country, and if he supported Tubman’s image on the new note.
“I’ve made no decision as it relates to that,” Mnuchin responded.
Last week, Pressley wrote a letter to Mnuchin asking him to explain his decision to postpone the $20 redesign and provide a timeline for the redesign plans. She asked for a response by July 1.
“Please provide specific detail about your Agency’s decision and rationale to postpone the release and circulation of the $20 redesign,” Pressley’s letter read, according to Newsweek.
Former Fox News contributor and now-Mnuchin spokeswoman Monica Crowley said in a statement to the Times that the new $20 bill’s release into circulation was still on schedule with the bureau’s original timeline of 2030—but didn’t say whether the bill would feature Tubman.
We’ve also reached out to the Treasury Department and Pressley for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
Update, 12:44 p.m. ET: In a statement to Splinter, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley characterized Treasury Department Sec. Steven Mnuchin’s actions as an attempt to satisfy the president’s racist and misogynistic agenda, and called news of the unveiled Harriet Tubman bill “exhausting and frustrating:”
Secretary Mnuchin has allowed Trump’s racism and misogyny to prevent him from carrying out the will of the people. Mnuchin, like so many others in this disgraceful administration, continues to behave as if his job is to satisfy this President and not serve the American people. As exhausting and frustrating this may be – we must continue to hold them accountable. My letter that was sent to the Treasury on June 6th gives Secretary Mnuchin until July 1st to elaborate on his claim that the redesign timeline has been pushed back to 2028. I look forward to reviewing his response.
Update, 4:00 p.m. ET: In a statement to Splinter, Treasury Department Sec. Steven Mnuchin denied that he was delaying the process for releasing a new $20 bill into circulation, calling the allegation “completely erroneous:”
The redesign process is dictated first by the development of security and anti-counterfeiting features, which as [Bureau of Engraving and Printing] Director [Len] Olijar and I have repeatedly stated, are on a predetermined, multi-year timetable. In the case of the $20 bill, that timetable is consistent with the previous Administration and has not been changed. As Secretary, my first responsibility is to ensure all security and anti-counterfeiting measures are properly taken in accordance with BEP’s mandates. The suggestion that this process is being stalled is completely erroneous.
In another statement, Bureau of Engraving and Printing Director Len Olijar denied that the $20 note shared by the New York Times was a new note, stating that it was instead “a copy of an old Series note with the signatures of former officials, with a different image imposed on it.” Olijar also denied that the bureau was going to unveil a design for a new note in 2020, calling the move “unwise” at the risk of counterfeiters. The statement did not mention whether Harriet Tubman would remain on the bill but said that “a design can change during testing [security features].”