WASHINGTON (CN) — A Democrat-led House committee has “invoked sufficient reasons” for requesting the income tax returns of former President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice said Friday, ordering the Treasury Department to release the records.
Laid out in a 39-page opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the decision will send the documents to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Chairman Richard Neal and fellow members will investigate how the IRS audits presidents’ tax returns.
The investigation date back to the 2016 presidential election campaign trail when Trump said that he could not release his tax returns because of an IRS audit. Trump’s decision to keep his tax returns private went against decades of precedent wherein presidential candidates release their tax returns while running for office.
While successful now in the request they made in June 2021, Democrats were rebuffed in seeking the same documents in 2019 when the Trump-appointed Secretary Steve Mnucnhin was leading the Department of Treasury.
Federal law “vests the congressional tax committees with a broad right to receive tax information from the Department of the Treasury,” Friday’s opinion states. It further explains that Congress has investigative authority over any subject that could be legislated.
“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 ” the opinion continues.
It goes on to say that, while the executive branch shouldn’t “blindly accept” justifications for information requests, it “should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative objective only in exceptional circumstances.”
The opinion comes a little less than half a year after the Supreme Court said Trump couldn’t stop his private accountants at Mazars USA from providing his tax returns and other financial records to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. as part of a criminal probe. Trump’s attorneys had been fighting in the courts since 2019 to keep the financial records secret. This effectively kept the probe in limbo until earlier this summer when both the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were charged July 1 with tax-related crimes.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neal applauded the action Friday.
“As I have maintained for years, the committee’s case is very strong and the law is on our side,” he said in a statement. “I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also applauded the move Friday.
“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,” Pelosi said, thanking Neal for pursuing the inquiry.
“Access to former President Trump’s tax returns is a matter of national security,” she continued. “The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president.”
The House committee and the Treasury Department are expected to submit a court filing in the lawsuit that House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal brought in July 2019 seeking the tax returns later Friday.