The DOJ says the Treasury Department must turn Trump’s tax returns over to Congress

Donald Trump
Former president Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, on July 11, 2021. AP Photo/LM Otero
  • The DOJ believes there is “ample basis” for the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns.
  • Getting Trump’s taxes would “further the Committee’s principal stated objective of assessing the IRS’s presidential audit program,” the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel said.
  • The Treasury Department “must comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s” request, OLC said.
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The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) determined on Friday that the Treasury Department must turn over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.

In a memorandum, Dawn Johnsen, the acting assistant attorney general at OLC, said the office believes “there is ample basis to conclude” that turning Trump’s taxes over to the committee would “further the Committee’s principal stated objective of assessing the IRS’s presidential audit program-a plainly legitimate area for congressional inquiry and possible legislation.”

However, according to ongoing litigation on the issue, Trump could be given a 72-hour window to try and stop the Treasury from turning over his taxes.

In Friday’s memorandum, Johnsen wrote that while tax records should generally be kept confidential, there are some narrow exceptions to the rule. One such exception allows “for special treatment and enhanced access to tax information” for congressional tax committees.

The relevant provision states that “‘[u]pon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,'” Johnsen wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement lauding the ruling as a “victory for the rule of law.”

“Access to former President Trump’s tax returns is a matter of national security,” her statement said. “The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president.”

House Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal first requested six years of Trump’s taxes from the IRS in April 2019 as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the agency’s auditing process. The request came after Trump repeatedly refused to disclose his tax returns to the public, citing an ongoing audit.

The Treasury Department subsequently asked the OLC for guidance on whether it should turn over the documents to Congress, saying it believed Neal’s request was a “pretext” for the panel’s “true purpose” of going on a fishing expedition through Trump’s finances.

In May 2019, the OLC said it believed the Treasury’s determination was “reasonabl[e]” and that the committee did not have a legitimate legislative purpose in sifting through Trump’s taxes, and the Treasury then denied Neal’s request.

The Ways and Means Committee later filed a lawsuit seeking to enforce its subpoena for Trump’s taxes, and Neal sent another written request in June 2021 for the tax records from 2015 through 2020.

The Treasury Department again contacted the OLC for guidance on the matter, and in Friday’s letter, Johnsen wrote that the committee’s investigation covers “a plainly legitimate area for congressional inquiry and possible legislation,” and that it should therefore be granted access to Trump’s taxes.

Johnsen’s memorandum went on to say that “even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information” on Trump’s tax returns “merely ‘for the sake of exposure,’ … that would not invalidate the legitimate objectives that the Committee’s receipt of the information in question could serve.”