Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on July 19, 2021 in New York City.
James Devaney | GC Images | Getty Images
The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel in a written opinion said that the Democratic-lead House Ways and Means Committee had made a request with a legitimate legislative purpose to see Trump’s tax returns, with a stated objective of assessing how the IRS audits presidents’ tax returns.
Under federal law, the tax-related committees of Congress have a “broad right” to obtain taxpayer information from the Treasury Department, the IRS’s parent,the 39-page opinion noted.
“The statute at issue here is unambiguous: ‘Upon written request’ of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary ‘shall furnish’ the requested tax information to the Committee,’ ” the opinion said.
While those committees cannot compel the executive branch of the government to compel disclosure of that information, the opinion noted that tax returns should be denied to the committees “only in exceptional circumstances,” and when that request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
The decision comes more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court said that Trump’s tax returns and other financial records had to be turned over by his longtime accountants to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., because of a subpoena issued as part of criminal probe.
The Trump Organization and its long-time chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were charged July 1 by Vance with crimes related to an alleged scheme since 2005 to avoid the payment of taxes on compensation for the CFO and other top executives.
Trump broke decades of precedent as both a presidential candidate and occupant of the White House by refusing to voluntarily release his income tax returns.
He claimed that his returns were under audit by the IRS, but there is no prohibition on taxpayers releasing their returns to the public even when those returns are being audited.
The Justice Department’s opinion, coming as it does under an attorney general, Merrick Garland, picked by President Joe Biden, is likely to ire Trump.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, said in a statement, “As I have maintained for years, the Committee’s case is very strong and the law is on our side.”
“I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward,” Neal said.
Neal’s committee in July 2019 had sued the Treasury Department and the IRS to obtained Trump’s tax returns after then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the head of the tax agency defied subpoenas demanding six years’ of Trump’s persona and business returns. Mnuchin at the time argued that the committee had no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking the documents.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, in a statement, said, “Today, the Biden Administration has delivered a victory for the rule of law, as it respects the public interest by complying with Chairman Neal’s request for Donald Trump’s tax returns.”
“As Speaker, on behalf of the House of Representatives, I applaud Chairman Neal for his dignified pursuit of the truth and the Biden Administration Department of Justice for its respect for the law,” Pelosi said.
“Access to former President Trump’s tax returns is a matter of national security,” she said. “The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president.”
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