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Trump’s tax returns case was thrown out by the Supreme Court. Now what?

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This week, in an unsigned order with no dissent, the U.S. Supreme Court finally allowed the U.S. Treasury to turn over six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. Refusing to hear arguments from the former president, the high court let stand a lower court’s ruling that the committee is entitled to see the tax returns of the president and eight of his companies.

The claim persisted in federal court in Washington, D.C., until Trump was replaced by President Joe Biden, the Justice Department reversed its legal position, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., sent a second request to the Treasury Branch in 2021.

This is clearly a legal victory for lawmakers, but one might wonder what the point of this massive effort is.

This is clearly a legal victory for lawmakers, but one might wonder what the point of this massive effort is. is, since the Manhattan prosecutor has already obtained numerous tax returns and related documents for Trump and his organizations. These documents were obtained from Mazar’s – the accounting firm that prepared Trump’s tax returns but later disavowed their accuracy – and have previously been used to extract a guilty plea from Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg. , and bring society to justice. Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, also has years of tax returns and filed a civil suit based largely on them. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York no doubt have them too.

But while Trump’s protracted legal wrangling has delayed production of documents to Neal’s committee, it has also created two other perils for Trump.

First, the House’s updated request to the Treasury Department in 2021 asks for more recent tax returns, this time for the 2015-2020 tax years. These statements span Trump’s entire presidency, meaning the House will have full insight into whether Trump or his companies may have breached the emoluments clause. It is the clause in the Constitution that prohibits federal office holders from receiving gifts, payments, or valuables from officials or representatives of foreign countries (and because it is a constitutional prohibition, Trump cannot argue that it does not apply to a president).

Second, the opinion of the highly regarded DC Court of Appeals has now confirmed that the legal hurdle that congressional tax commissions must jump to access the tax returns of a former president (and even a president in exercise) is quite low.

Now Trump must live with the possibility of some or all of his tax records becoming public – a scenario he appears to have feared since he began running for office. Tax returns in the hands of a congressional committee are not the same as tax returns in the hands of a prosecutor. Government prosecutors can obtain, but not disclose, the contents of tax returns — unless, that is, it becomes necessary to introduce relevant parts of the returns into evidence. The House Ways and Means Committee, however, is not as constrained. If it decides that taxpayer information should be transmitted to the entire House or Senate, or that a referral is made to the Department of Justice, the committee may make public the content of such communications, including taxpayer information.

There is a long and elaborate history as to why taxpayer information is considered so private in the United States. During the Civil War, public notices were posted and published in newspapers describing which taxpayers owed how much income tax. But after that tax law expired, concerns about taxpayer privacy became a constant theme, primarily for two reasons: first, that politicians would use taxpayer information to persecute their political opponents, and second, that taxpayers, concerned about disclosure, would not tell the truth in their tax returns.

As a result, even though the federal government’s ability to levy taxes was explicitly authorized by the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, the government’s taxing power has always been tied to the non-disclosure of personal tax information. (In fact, citing confidentiality rules, the IRS will not even allow a taxpayer to see false tax returns filed in that taxpayer’s name, where the scammer has requested the taxpayer’s refund).

After evidence emerged that President Richard Nixon had used taxpayer information to target political opponents, a law was enacted in 1976 that severely restricted a president’s ability to release taxpayer information. But the constraints imposed on congressional committees are less stringent, and much of it is left to the discretion of the committees.

Indeed, with respect to Trump’s tax returns, the House argument that prevailed in court was that the Ways and Means Committee needed Trump’s tax information to fulfill its responsibility to fund and overseeing the presidential audit program. Under this program, the IRS automatically audits each president’s tax returns, saving the agency from having to decide which CEO to audit. President Neal’s request to the Treasury noted that Trump’s tax returns were “disproportionately large and complex,” requiring committee review to ensure the IRS was not intimidated and had adequate resources. This stated reason, the lower courts found, was sufficient on its face to overcome Trump’s argument that the return request was politically motivated.

To be clear, just because the Ways and Means Committee can release Trump’s tax information doesn’t mean it will, and whether the Committee eventually releases one of the documents is anyone’s guess. Federal District Judge Trevor McFadden, appointed by Trump in 2017 to the court, ordered the Treasury Department to turn over the documents to the Ways and Means Committee, noting that “[i]It may not be right or wise to publish the results, but it is the president’s right to do so. But he also warned the committee that “[a]No one can see that the release of confidential tax information from a political rival is the type of move that will come back to torment the inventor. In other words, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

It’s true. But just having the tax returns in the hands of the committee must give pause to someone like Trump, who, after bragging about making hundreds of millions of dollars, paid no federal income tax for 10 of the 15 years before being elected president. It’s also true that even if the House drops its review because Republicans will soon take control of its committees, Trump’s tax returns may also be requested by the Senate Finance Committee, which will continue to be under Democratic control. So, public or not, Trump’s tax information could in future serve as a polygraph in the room, its contents a measure of the veracity of what the former president said.

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