President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by former President Donald Trump to prevent Congress from obtaining his federal income tax returns and those of related business entities from the IRS.
The decision sets the stage for the Democrat-controlled House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns in the weeks before Republicans take majority control of the House.
GOP lawmakers have vowed to end the committee’s quest to obtain the records and a related probe into how the Internal Revenue Service audits the tax returns of sitting presidents.
The order Tuesday by the Supreme Court, which noted no dissent from any justice, comes more than three months after a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Ways and Means Committee had the right to obtain Trump’s tax returns.
The entire appeals court on Oct. 27 denied Trump’s request to have the full lineup of the judges on that court rehear his appeal.
Trump then asked the Supreme Court on Oct. 31 to block the committee from obtaining his tax returns.
In that filing, Trump’s lawyers wrote, “This case raises important questions about the separation of powers that will affect every future President.”
The brief response Tuesday from the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to stay the lower court rulings that had cleared the way for the committee to get his returns.
The Ways and Means Committee in April 2019 first asked the Treasury Department for the federal income tax returns of Trump and of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, along with those of seven limited liability companies connected to the ex-president, one of which does business as Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump was president at the time of that request.
Federal law mandates that the Treasury Department and IRS deliver income tax returns when Ways and Means, or two other congressional committees that have oversight over tax issues, request them.
But then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was appointed by Trump, refused to comply with the request for his tax returns, saying that the committee lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.
The committee then sued to force Treasury to turn over the returns.
After President Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump in the 2020 election, committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., renewed his request for the tax returns, with added detail about the reasons the panel wanted them. Neal said that the committee, in addition to reviewing how tax laws apply to presidents, also would review potential conflicts of interest by a president.
The Treasury Department in mid-2021 said it would release the returns, citing an opinion by the department’s lawyers. They found that Neal’s request was valid, and that Treasury had a legal obligation to comply.
Trump then countersued to block the returns from being turned over, arguing that the request both violated the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government and that the request did not have a legitimate purpose.
On Dec. 14, Washington federal court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled against Trump, saying the committee had a right to the returns.
“A long line of Supreme Court cases requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries. Even the special solicitude accorded former presidents does not alter the outcome,” McFadden wrote.
“The committee need only state a valid legislative purpose,” McFadden wrote. “It has done so.”