Under existing law, a limited number of congressional leaders have the authority to access individual tax returns from the Treasury Department. In April 2019, Rep. Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, decided to exercise that power, directing officials from the Treasury Department to turn over Donald Trump’s tax records.
As longtime readers may recall, since the law was created in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s, no administration has ever denied a lawmaker access to tax returns under this law. The Trump administration, however, balked — and touched off a lengthy legal fight.
As NBC News reported this afternoon, that fight appears to have come to an end.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s last-ditch plea to block the release of his tax records to House Democrats, paving the way for their possible disclosure to the lawmakers. The decision by the court in a brief order noting no dissenting votes means the committee can try to access the documents ahead of the Republican take-over of the House in January.
The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3. At that point, the GOP-led chamber will withdraw its request for the documents, giving the outgoing Democratic majority 42 days to obtain and assess the materials.
At this point, some readers are probably asking, “Didn’t the Supreme Court already rule on this?” The answer is yes, but it was a very different case: The justices previously rejected Trump’s bid for secrecy in a case involving a grand jury process in New York.
Now, the high court has also rejected the Republican’s bid for secrecy in a case involving Congress.
So what happens now? In practical terms, the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax laws, will go back to the Treasury Department to obtain over six years of tax records from the former president and some of his private-sector enterprise.
As a Washington Post report added, “Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his time in office to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits.”
Trump — the only recent president from either party to insist on total secrecy on his tax returns — has accused congressional Democrats of going on a fishing expedition, but the Republican has never fully explained why he’s obsessively fought to keep the materials hidden.
About four years ago, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close Trump ally, reflected on what might happen if Democrats pursued the then-president’s tax returns.
“Then [Democrats will] be trapped into appealing to the Supreme Court,” Gingrich said, “and we’ll see whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.”
The implication wasn’t subtle: Gingrich was suggesting that Trump and his lawyers expected the Republican’s justices to shield him from accountability.
The comment was unfortunate at the time, and it appears quite a bit worse now.