The Department of Justice ordered the Treasury Department to turn over former President Trump’s tax returns to the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee Friday.
A memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) said that the committee satisfied the constitutional requirement that the information requested will serve a legitimate legislative purpose, and therefore the Treasury Department is obliged to release the documents.
“The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former president’s tax information,” the opinion said. “Treasury must furnish the information to the committee.”
The opinion is expected to set off a potentially years-long legal battle.
In 2019, then committee chairman Representative Richard Neal asked the IRS to present Trump’s individual and business tax returns from 2013 to 2018, as well as audit histories and work-papers associated with each return. Neal also issued subpoenas for former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin and the commissioner of the IRS.
The DOJ office, however, determined that the congressional committee’s true intention was to reveal the president’s tax returns to the public, which is not a legitimate legislative need, according to the memo. The 2019 opinion from OLC deemed the committee’s politically motivated request “invalid” and barred disclosure.
The Trump administration denied the request, prompting the committee to file a lawsuit in response to acquire the documents.
Then, Chairman Neal made a new request for Trump’s tax returns in June, seeking filings from 2015 to 2020 rather than 2013 to 2018, the memo states. The justification the committee used for the 2021 request was to assess IRS procedure for auditing presidents as well as Trump’s business dealings and foreign engagements.
Upon weighing the request, the Biden administration’s DOJ concluded Friday that it is valid and reasonable, in a reversal from its decision in 2019.
“Applying the proper degree of deference due the Committee, we believe that there is ample basis to conclude that its June 2021 Request for former President Trump’s tax information would further the Committee’s principal stated objective of assessing the IRS’s presidential audit program—a plainly legitimate area for congressional inquiry and possible legislation,” Johnsen said.