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House committee now has access to several years of Trump's tax returns

CBS News 11/30/2022 Melissa Quinn
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Washington — The House Ways & Means Committee now has access to several years of former President Donald Trump's tax records, days after the Supreme Court declined to block their release.

The Treasury Department said in a brief statement that it has "complied with last week's court decision." Under federal law, "[u]pon written request from the chairman" of the Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee, the Treasury "shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request."

In late July 2021, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel wrote in an opinion that "the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President's tax information. Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee." It was this action that Trump sought to stop with his lawsuit and now, the Treasury Department has said it has complied.

The law also states that the committee "must sit in closed executive session to receive" the records.

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. / Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS © Provided by CBS News FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. / Credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Trump asked the Supreme Court late last month to intervene after a three-judge panel on the federal appeals court in Washington rejected claims from the former president that the Ways and Means panel's request for his tax information was unconstitutional and lacked a valid legislative purpose. 

But in an unsigned order just before Thanksgiving, the high court rejected Trump's request, with no noted dissents. The order cleared the way for the committee to obtain the records weeks before Republicans take control of the House in January.

It's not yet clear whether the committee will release any records to the public. 

The dispute between Trump and the Ways and Means Committee arose from an April 2019 request from Chairman Richard Neal to the Internal Revenue Service for Trump's individual tax records and those of eight of his business entities for 2013 to 2018. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, made the request under a federal law that allows the Ways and Means chairman to request certain individuals' tax returns.

Neal is seeking the returns to determine whether Trump and his companies are complying with tax laws, and to oversee whether the IRS audit of the former president was conducted "fully and appropriately."

At the time, the Treasury Department declined to comply, arguing the request was not supported by a legitimate legislative purpose. House Democrats then sued the IRS and department to force them to turn over the tax information.

After the change in presidential administrations, and with the court fight ongoing, Neal renewed his request for five years of income tax returns from Trump and his businesses for 2015 to 2020. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel also issued an opinion finding the committee had invoked "sufficient reasons'' for requesting Trump's tax information and that the Treasury Department had to turn over the records, a reversal from a legal analysis conducted under the Trump administration. The Treasury said it intended to comply with Neal's later request and turn over the materials to Congress.

Trump again sought to block the release of his tax records, arguing Democrats' lacked a valid legislative purpose for seeking his returns and the request violated the Constitution in part because it was politically motivated. But a federal district court sided with the Democrats, finding Neal's request furthers Congress's study of the presidential audit program. The three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge David Sentelle wrote in a 33-page ruling that Democrats' request "was made in furtherance of a subject upon which legislation could be had," and he rejected claims from the former president that Democrats' request for his tax information was unconstitutional.

"While it is possible that Congress may attempt to threaten the sitting president with an invasive request after leaving office, every president takes office knowing that he will be subject to the same laws as all other citizens upon leaving office," Sentelle wrote. "This is a feature of our democratic republic, not a bug."

Trump asked the full D.C. Circuit to reconsider the decision, but it declined to rehear the case.

The IRS was set to release the former president's financial records to the Ways and Means Committee on Nov. 3, but Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and stop the agency from turning his returns over. Chief Justice Roberts issued a temporary stay blocking their release, but the Supreme Court's order last week dissolved the stay.

Sarah Ewall-Wice and Robert Legare contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Treasury Department said it has complied with last week's Supreme Court decision to give the House Ways and Means Committee access to Trump's tax returns. It did not say specifically what steps it took to do so.   

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