The Treasury is free to obey a request from the House Ways and Means Committee for former president Trump’s tax returns after the Justice Department released an opinion on Friday saying that the demand was valid.
The move reverses an earlier opinion issued in 2019 by the Trump administration, which found that Ways and Means chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) had failed to put forward a legitimate request. The new opinion allows the Treasury Department to respond to Neal’s April 2019 request and hand over Trump’s tax returns.
The opinion was authored by the Office of Legal Counsel.
“The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information,” the document reads. “Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.”
Trump was the first president since Richard Nixon not to disclose his tax information voluntarily. In Nixon’s case, the president faced a scandal after it emerged that the IRS chief had, at the time, given favorable interpretations to tax issues that Tricky Dick faced, thereby lowering the amount he had due.
Trump entered office with arguably more unresolved and delicate business before the IRS than any previous president.
Neal celebrated the victory in a characteristically drab statement.
“As I have maintained for years, the Committee’s case is very strong and the law is on our side,” the statement reads. “I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward.”
Neal issued the request for Trump’s returns in April 2019, after hearings over whether to enact legislation requiring future presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
But the request quickly ran into the legal shield that emerged around Trump’s financial and business affairs while he was in office. The Trump-controlled agencies responsible for responding to the request declined to fulfill it, saying that there was no legitimate legislative purpose for the request.
By law, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is empowered to request the returns of any filer.
That impasse devolved into a glacial court battle, which appears to have been rendered moot by the OLC decision.
The House will be barred from releasing Trump’s raw tax returns. Rather, they’ll likely do what occurred in the case of Nixon: analyze the information and compile a report.
In Trump’s case, that’s all but assured to be explosive. The New York Times already reported, based on years of leaked tax return information, that Trump booked huge losses, thereby reducing his tax liability to nearly nothing.
At least some congressional staffers already reportedly gotten a look at pieces of Trump’s tax information. The Joint Committee on Taxation has, the New York Times reported, frozen the release of a $73 million refund to Trump amid an audit fight between the former president and the IRS. That dispute has reportedly been on ice for at least four years.
That will likely give Neal a lot to investigate.
The move comes the same week as the DOJ, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, allowed former Trump officials to testify about the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Trump has yet to take any known legal action to block former officials from disclosing information. It’s not clear if he will sue to block the tax returns from going to the House.
The request remains subject to an order from U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, who is presiding over the court case for the returns.
In that case, McFadden has ruled that Trump’s counsel be given 72 hours notice before the tax docs are released to the committee.
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement on Friday calling the ruling a “victory for the rule of law.”
“The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president,” she added.
Read the opinion here.