Legislation

IRS must turn over Trump tax returns to Congress; could make info public

In a 39-page opinion released this afternoon and provided to the Business Journal, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has ruled that the Internal Revenue Service must turn over to Congress Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Trump
Donald Trump in his Manhattan office. Photo by Bob Rozycki

The opinion was signed by Dawn Johnsen, acting assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The House Ways and Means Committee had been seeking the returns but had been previously blocked from getting them by the IRS and the Justice Department while Trump was in office.

It wanted the tax documents in order to investigate whether the IRS had been diligent in auditing Trump’s returns while he was serving as president. On June 21, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) renewed the request.

“Although it is possible that some members of Congress might hope that former President Trump’s tax returns are published solely in order to embarrass him or to ‘expose for the sake of exposure,’ such individuals’ motives would not serve to invalidate the committee’s request,” the DOJ said in the opinion.

The DOJ concluded that in seeking Trump’s tax returns, Congress is acting to inform both itself and the public with respect to matters on which legislation can be, and has been, considered and enacted. Federal law requires that Congressional requests to the IRS for tax returns be justified as being for a legislative purpose.

The DOJ suggested that a legislative purpose might include considering whether legislation should be written that would require presidents to disclose their tax returns, a practice that had been done voluntarily in the modern era until Trump’s refusal to make his returns public because of what he alleged were ongoing IRS audits.

“As the chairman (of the House Ways and Means Committee) notes in his June 2021 request, it is reasonable for the committee to focus on former President Trump’s returns, just as the Joint Committee on Taxation’s predecessor asked only for the IRS’s audit of President Nixon’s returns in 1973 when there was reason to believe that the auditing process might have been deficient in that particular case,” the DOJ said in the opinion.

The Ways and Means Committee could in theory enter the tax returns in its public records or arrange for the information to be brought to the House floor where it could be made public.

It is expected that in addition to information about the estimated 500 entities that involve Trump and the Trump Organization, the tax returns may include information about Trump’s real estate holdings in Westchester, including the Seven Springs Estate in Bedford and the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance have been investigating Trump’s financials; court documents show that the Seven Springs Estate is one of the properties they’re looking at in connection with both civil and criminal matters.

It is conceivable that, having previously fought to block the IRS release of the tax returns, Trump would go to court to try to prevent the IRS from complying with the DOJ’s decision and turning over the records to Congress.


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