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Justice Dept: IRS must give Trump's tax returns to Congress

In 2019, the Trump administration refused to turn over Donald Trump's tax returns to Congress. Today, the Justice Department reversed course.

The Justice Department announced today that the IRS doesn't have a choice: if Congress wants Donald Trump's tax returns, the Treasury Department has to comply. NBC News reported:

The DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel said in its opinion that the House Ways and Means Committee had given "sufficient reasons" for requesting the information. When a congressional tax committee asks for such tax information, "the executive branch should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances," the Office of Legal Counsel said.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it's important to emphasize that the fight wasn't over a subpoena. It also wasn't even a request, per se.

Under existing federal law, a limited number of congressional leaders have the legal authority to access individual tax returns from the Treasury Department. In April 2019, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, decided to exercise that power. Since the law was created in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s, no administration had ever denied a lawmaker access to tax returns under this statute.

The Trump administration, however, balked. Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, as far as his office was concerned, the congressional committee's request lacked "a legitimate legislative purpose."

Today, the Justice Department reversed Mnuchin's declaration, concluding that the 2019 finding "went astray."

In a written statement, Richard Neal responded to the Office of Legal Counsel's announcement by saying, "As I have maintained for years, the committee's case is very strong and the law is on our side. I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added, "Access to former President Trump's tax returns is a matter of national security."

So what happens now? Congress almost certainly won't receive the materials today. In fact, a court ruling from earlier this year ordered the Treasury Department to provide up to 72 hours to the former president before releasing his financial materials.

If the Biden administration starts the clock today, it means the earliest the documents would be turned over would be Monday -- and that's if Trump's lawyers don't try one last-gasp legal effort to keep the hidden materials under wraps.

Watch this space.