Jul 30, 2021
The U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel said Friday that the Treasury Department is obligated by law to hand former President Donald Trump's tax returns over to the House Ways and Means Committee, opening the door for Congress to finally obtain the documents after more than two years of legal battles and stonewalling by his administration.
"It is about damn time," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, said in a statement. "Our committee first sought Donald Trump's tax returns on April 3, 2019--849 days ago. Our request was made in full accordance with the law and pursuant to Congress' constitutional oversight powers. And for 849 days, our request has been illegally blocked by a tag-team of the Trump Justice Department and a Trump-appointed judge."
Pascrell went on to applaud Attorney General Merrick Garland for "doing the right thing and no longer using the government to shield a corrupt private citizen."
"This case is now bigger even than Donald Trump's crimes and impacts whether the Article I branch can conduct effective oversight to impose accountability on the Article II branch," said Pascrell, referring to the legislative and executive branches of government. "Neither the courts, nor the machinery of our government, exist to bodyguard a corrupt private citizen from transparency."
In a 39-page memo (pdf) sent to the Treasury Department, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) said that "when one of the congressional tax committees requests tax information pursuant to section 6103(f)(1), and has invoked facially valid reasons for its request, the executive branch should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances."
"The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former president's tax information," the memo reads. "Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the committee."
In 2019, Trump's Treasury Department refused to comply with House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Richard Neal's (D-Mass.) subpoena for the former president's personal and business tax returns. The committee went on to sue the Treasury Department--then headed by former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin--over its obstruction, prompting Trump to file suit against the congressional panel in his capacity as a private citizen.
Last September, the New York Times--which obtained Trump tax-return data spanning more than two decades--published a major investigative story detailing how he paid just "$750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency."
"In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750," the Times reported. "He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years--largely because he reported losing much more money than he made."
Under a Trump-appointed federal judge's order, the Treasury Department is required to give Trump's lawyers 72 hours' notice before providing the former president's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, giving Trump a potential opportunity to stop the release of the documents. But that order is set to expire on August 3.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the OLC memo "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."
"The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president," Pelosi said.
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