'About Damn Time': DOJ Reverses Course, Orders Treasury to Hand Trump's Tax Returns Over to Congress
17:39 GMT 30.07.2021 (Updated: 18:56 GMT 30.07.2021)
© AFP 2021 / DOMINICK REUTERIn this file photo taken on January 16, 2017 US President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator after escorting Martin Luther King III to the lobby after meetings at Trump Tower in New York City. - The Trump Organization is being investigated in a "criminal capacity" as New York prosecutors advance their probe into former president Donald Trump's business dealings, the state attorney general announced Tuesday. "We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature," a spokesman for Attorney General Letitia James' office said. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA."
The US Department of Justice issued a ruling on Friday saying that the US Treasury must comply with requests by federal lawmakers to turn over the tax returns of former US President Donald Trump, long sought by Democrats due to beliefs and hopes that their contents could bar him from returning to office.
In a 39-page memo issued on Friday, Dawn Johnsen, the acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, said the law requiring the Internal Revenue Service to honor a written request by the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of Trump's tax returns was "unambiguous."
"‘Upon written request’ of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary ‘shall furnish’ the requested tax information to the Committee,” she wrote, citing 26 USC § 6103(f)(1), a 1924 law requiring the documents be presented to the committee.
“Applying the proper degree of deference due the Committee, we believe that there is ample basis to conclude that its June 2021 Request for former President Trump’s tax information 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," Johnsen added.
Trump was the first presidential nominee from one of the two major parties in years to break tradition and not publicly disclose his tax returns. The real estate mogul provided a variety of excuses, including that he was being audited by the IRS and that he thought they would be too complex for the average American to understand. However, the IRS clarified that an audit doesn't preclude the documents from being made public.
Trump's tax returns were first legally sought by the Manhattan District Attorney's office in 2017. However, in 2019, the Ways and Means Committee submitted a specific request for the years 2013 through 2018. The US Treasury refused to present them, accusing the Democrat-led committee of requesting them for the purposes of making them public and saying the request lacked a "legitimate legislative purpose." The DOJ at the time supported the Treasury's assertions. Among other reasons, lawmakers wanted the returns to look for evidence of criminal tax fraud or other financial crimes the billionaire might have committed, as well as to examine the truth of his claims to have handed over control of the Trump Organization conglomerate to his children.
After Trump's term ended in January 2021, the committee renewed its endeavor, sending a fresh request in May.
"It is about damn time," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who chairs the Ways and Means' oversight subcommittee, said in response to the news. "Our committee first sought Donald Trump's tax returns on April 3, 2019 – 849 days ago. Our request was made in full accordance with the law and pursuant to Congress's constitutional oversight powers."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that obtaining access to Trump's tax returns is a matter of national security.
"Today, the Biden Administration has delivered a victory for the rule of law," she said. "The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president."
The amount of pressure Trump put on the Justice Department to defend his presidency was revealed somewhat earlier on Friday, when memos from a late December 2020 phone call were published by the House Oversight Committee in which Trump urged the department to denounce the results of the presidential election the month prior, which he had lost.
The notes show that on December 27, Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to "just say that the election was corrupt [and] leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen." The request came weeks after after former Attorney General William Barr broke with the president and said there was no evidence of voter fraud in the November 3 election, which the incumbent Trump lost to US President Joe Biden. It also came a little over a week before thousands of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building and temporarily dispersed Congress in an attempt to stop the certification of the Electoral College's voting results, resulting in the deaths of four rioters and one US Capitol Police officer.