D.C. Court Rules Congress Can Access Trump Tax Returns From IRS

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A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled this Tuesday that the House Ways and Means Committee can access personal tax returns for Donald Trump from the IRS.

A piece of federal legislation lets that committee obtain personal tax returns for U.S. taxpayers from authorities elsewhere in the federal government, but in the Trump era — when a request first went out from the panel for the Trump records — the elements of Trump’s admin responsible for handling the request predictably rebuffed it. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairperson of the ways and means committee, filed a court challenge in 2019 against the Trump administration’s refusals, and after the Biden administration took over, the Justice Department — as could be expected — dropped the argument against releasing the Trump records at issue to the panel. Judge Trevor McFadden, who’s a Trump appointee, granted a request from the House and Justice Department sides to dismiss the case — which Trump appealed.

Trump could appeal again, and knowing Trump, he seems likely, of course, to do so. The court delayed the issuance of its judgment for seven days, providing an opening for an appeal. “The DC Court of Appeals has just ruled that the law is on our side in seeking Trump’s tax returns. We expect to receive the requested tax returns and audit files immediately,” the Neal-led House panel said Tuesday on Twitter. The panel previously cited an interest in examining the presidential audit program at the IRS in its hope to obtain Trump’s personal tax records, as reported by Axios. The three-judge panel on the D.C. appeals court that unveiled this decision rebuffed an argument from Trump that the House panel’s request for the records was essentially political in nature, CNN adds.

“In this case, the need for the Trump Parties’ information to inform potential legislation overrides the burden to the Executive Branch largely because that burden is so tenuous,” D.C. Circuit Judge David Sentelle said. Sentelle is an appointee of Ronald Reagan. The two other judges who were on the panel and broadly agreed with the conclusions he discussed were Karen Henderson and Robert Wilkins, appointees of George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively. In other words, there’s clearly no Democratic conspiracy in the judiciary to undercut the ex-president’s concerns in this case.

Trump often cites ostensible concerns about the impact on the executive branch from various investigative actions targeting him, although he certainly doesn’t seem immutably committed to upholding legal and procedural standards of the presidency, since — among other examples — he’s been repeatedly exposed for mishandling government records. It’s concerns about that issue which sparked the FBI raid this week on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where agents were reportedly interested in (among other points) seeing whether records that federal law required be provided to federal record-keeping authorities were still there. Previously, over a dozen boxes of records from Trump’s administration that were improperly transported to Mar-a-Lago were recovered by the National Archives. That agency said it found classified material in the boxes and referred the matter to the Department of Justice for further investigation.

Image: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons