By Zachary Stieber
President Joe Biden’s administration has handed over years of former President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Treasury has complied with last week’s court decision,” a spokesperson for the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, told The Epoch Times on Nov. 30.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request from the former president to block the IRS from transmitting the returns, lifting a stay that Chief Justice John Roberts had temporarily imposed.
The lifting of the stay meant an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came back into effect. That order had directed the IRS to transmit the materials to the House.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been seeking six years of Trump tax returns since 2019.
A spokesperson for the panel declined to immediately comment on the Treasury’s statement.
“Since the Magna Carta, the principle of oversight has been upheld, and today is no different,” Neal said in a statement after the Supreme Court decision. “This rises above politics, and the Committee will now conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.”
Trump and his lawyers had argued that the bid to get the records was politically motivated and designed to publicly release sensitive information, pointing to statements to that effect by leading Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But several courts said Neal had put forth a legitimate legislative purpose.
Neal, who hasn’t sought records from any other president, says the materials are needed to examine the way the IRS audits presidents.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2019 said that Neal’s stated reason for requesting the records was “implausible.”
“The objective mismatch between the Committee’s stated purpose, on the one hand, and the particular information that the Committee demanded, on the other, provided strong evidence of pretext,” the office said at the time. “In addition, the nature of the request, the long series of events that preceded it, and Chairman Neal’s pointed failure to renounce his oft-proclaimed purpose of publicly releasing the President’s tax returns all confirm that the Committee’s purpose was the constitutionally impermissible one of forcing the public disclosure of the President’s tax returns.”
After Biden became president, Neal sent a new request that he described as having more detail, with Neal saying the materials would help not only oversee the audit program but also the way the IRS enforces federal tax laws against presidents. He said there were “serious concerns” that the audit program wasn’t functioning as intended because it allegedly wasn’t designed with an individual like Trump, who has numerous businesses, in mind, and that the program “does not provide explicit safeguards in the event a President interferes with or questions the appropriateness” of an audit.
Neal also changed the files sought to tax years 2015–2020 from 2013–2018.
The Office of Legal Counsel then reversed itself, finding that the previous legal opinion it released “failed to give due weight to Congress’s status as a co-equal branch of government” and saying that Neal’s request “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.”
“Even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information from the former President’s tax returns disclosed on the public record 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,” the opinion also said.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, threw out the lawsuit in 2021, finding that statements from Pelosi and other lawmakers “plausibly show mixed motives underlying the 2021 Request” but that “it is not a court’s ‘function’ to invalidate a congressional investigation that serves a legislative purpose.”
The appeals court upheld the ruling in August, concluding that the court couldn’t probe the motives of legislators and that Neal “has identified a legitimate legislative purpose that it requires information to accomplish.”
“At this stage, it is not our place to delve deeper than this,” U.S. Circuit Judge David Sentelle, a Reagan appointee writing for the three-judge panel, wrote.
The panel all agreed but U.S. Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, said in a concurring opinion that the potential of Congress to threaten a sitting president with a post-presidency request “ in order to influence the President while in office should not be dismissed so quickly.”