Supreme Court denies Trump request to block tax returns from Congress


The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for a congressional committee to review Donald Trump’s tax returns, silently denying the former president’s last-ditch efforts to escalate a legal battle that has occupied Congress and the courts for years.

The judges’ short order means the Treasury Department can quickly turn over six years of tax records from Trump and some of his companies to the House Ways and Means Committee.

There were no recorded dissenting opinions, and as is often the case with urgent motions, the court gave no reason for denying Trump’s request for the records to be withheld.

Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his tenure to assess the effectiveness of the president’s annual reviews. Trump has argued that Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing trip to embarrass him politically.

In May 2019, the Treasury Department denied a statutory subpoena request for tax returns from President Trump. Now it’s unclear if the Democrats will get them. (Video: JM Rieger/Washington Post)

“It’s been 1,329 days since our committee collected Donald Trump’s tax returns — nearly the length of the American Civil War,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (DN.J.), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. “And for 1,329 days, our statutory motion has been delayed, obscured and blocked by Donald Trump and his aides in government and the courts. . . The Supreme Court is rightly staying out of this case.”

It’s unclear when the Treasury Department will turn over the documents — a spokesman said only that the department would follow suit — but time is not on the side of Democrats, who lead the committee. Demands for the records would almost certainly expire in January when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives as a result of the recent midterm elections.

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House Counsel Douglas N. Letter had told judges that “a delay by the Treasury Department in providing the requested tax information would leave little or no time for the committee and Congress as a whole to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is fast approaching its end. “

Trump’s lawyers said that was all the more reason to allow the request to block the release of the recordings. “Congress has just a few days left in its legislative calendar,” attorney Cameron T. Norris said in his filing. “Although a few days is enough time to inappropriately disclose the most sensitive documents of one’s main political rival, it is not enough time to properly study, draft, debate or pass legislation.”

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Last month, the entire US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit declined to review previous rulings that found lawmakers were entitled to the documents in the protracted litigation. That court also refused to put the release of the papers on hold while Trump’s attorneys sought a Supreme Court review.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the judge responsible for hearing emergency orders from that court, halted the release on Nov. 1, calling for more briefing and giving the Supreme Court more time to act.

The Supreme Court has been generally impervious to claims by Trump — who is running for president again — that he should be allowed to keep records private and that he is immune from investigation while in office. Judges in 2020 upheld Congress’s right to subpoena this information as long as certain conditions were met; Last year, they declined to block the release of Trump’s financial records to New York State investigators.

In an argument against releasing the records, Trump’s legal team strongly challenged the premise of the intelligence-gathering committee.

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“The purpose of the committee in requesting President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or personnel issues with the IRS, but has everything to do with the release of the president’s tax information to the public,” Trump’s Supreme Court filing reads.

It adds: “If allowed, it will undermine the separation of powers and leave the presidency vulnerable to invasive information requests from political opponents in the legislature. The review is of the utmost importance and the Court should retain the ability to grant it – not just to an ‘designated President’ but also to ‘the Presidency itself’.”

The references to a “designated president” and “the presidency itself” come from a previous Supreme Court ruling that concerned the president’s authority over immigration. But this Litigation is unique because Trump defied modern tradition for presidential candidates and Oval Office residents by refusing to release his tax returns. Democrats began the legal battle to get her after winning a majority in the House of Representatives in 2019.

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Attorney General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, who represents the Biden administration, told the Supreme Court that the judiciary should not interfere even if the congressional committee’s motion contained political elements.

“Throughout our nation’s history, congressional requests for information have been driven by mixed legislative and political motives,” she told the court in a filing. “But time and time again, this court has denied attempts to invalidate otherwise reasonable motions for legislation on the basis of evidence of additional motives.”

She said the lower courts evaluated the committee’s request in line with standards set by the Supreme Court Trump vs Mazarsthe 2020 decision that sided with Congress in Trump’s attempt to block the release of his records.

“The long standing precedent of this court precludes the applicants’ attempt to get the courts to look behind the stated legislative purpose of the request for the subjective motives of individual lawmakers,” she wrote. “In the particular circumstances of this case, the Chair’s request for tax information from the applicants is both within the purview of the Committee and consistent with the separation of powers.”

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She said the lower court judges took different approaches to finding that the committee’s request did not violate the separation of powers, “but all came to the same conclusion — and none of them viewed the case as particularly narrow.”

Since 2016, President Trump has cited an ongoing IRS audit as the main reason he won’t release his tax returns. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Though it took years for the case to move through the courts, those judges have consistently ruled that the legislature had established the “valid legislative purpose” required for disclosure.

The appeals court said Trump’s status as a former president factored into its decision; Since all previous presidents had voluntarily filed their tax returns for decades, the request was “minimally intrusive”. But even if Trump were still president, the court found that the motion would not violate the separation of powers. The court was also unperturbed by Trump’s argument that his tax returns could become public.

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“Congress investigations sometimes disclose the private information of the bodies, organizations and individuals they investigate,” the panel wrote. “That doesn’t make them overly burdensome. It is in the nature of the investigative and legislative processes.”

It also dismissed concerns that approving the motion would stoke tensions between Congress and the president — or a former president.

“Although it is possible that Congress will seek to threaten the incumbent president with an invasive motion after he leaves office, every president enters office knowing that after he leaves office he will be subject to the same laws as all other citizens will be subject,” the court order said. “It’s a feature of our democratic republic, not a bug.”

The case is Trump v Committee on Ways and Means.