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The Supreme Court denies Trump’s request to withhold tax returns from Congress

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied former President Donald Trump’s attempts to block the release of his tax records before a congressional committee that has spent years seeking the information.

The court’s order allows the Treasury Department to quickly hand over six years of tax records on Trump and some of his companies to the House Ways and Means Committee.

There were no recorded dissent in the court order.

Lawmakers have said they need Trump’s tax returns from his tenure to help evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits. Trump has argued that Democratic lawmakers are on a fishing expedition designed to embarrass him politically.

Time is not on the side of the Democrats who run the committee. The demands for the documents will almost certainly expire in January, when Republicans take control of the House following the recent midterm elections.

“Delaying the Treasury from providing the requested tax information would give the Committee and Congress as a whole little or no time to complete their legislative work during this Congress, which is fast approaching its end,” said Douglas N. Letter, general counsel for the House. to court.

Trump’s lawyers said that was all the more reason to grant the request to block the release of the data. “Congress has only a few days left on its legislative calendar,” attorney Cameron T. Norris said in his filing. “While a few days is enough time to inappropriately disclose the most sensitive documents of his main political rival, it is not enough time to properly study, draft, debate or pass legislation.”

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Last month, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit declined to review previous rulings, finding that lawmakers are entitled to the documents in the long-running legal battle. That court also declined to suspend the release of the papers while Trump’s lawyers sought a Supreme Court review.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the judge assigned to hear emergency orders from that court, stopped the release on Nov. 1, requesting more information and giving the Supreme Court more time to act.

The Supreme Court was generally unresponsive to claims by Trump — who is running for president again — that he should be allowed to keep records private and that he was immune from scrutiny while in office. The judges in 2020 upheld Congress’s right to subpoena that information as long as certain conditions were met, and last year they refused to block the release of Trump’s financial records to New York State investigators.

By arguing against the release of the documents, Trump’s legal team was seriously questioning the committee’s premise for seeking the information.

“The committee’s purpose in requesting President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or personnel issues at the IRS, but everything to do with the release of the president’s tax information to the public,” Trump’s petition to the Supreme Court states .

It adds: “If it holds up, it will undermine the separation of powers and leave the presidency’s office vulnerable to intrusive information demands from political opponents in the legislature. Scrutiny is of the utmost importance, and the Court should retain its ability to grant it – not just for one ‘particular president’, but for ‘the presidency itself’.”

The references to a “particular president” and “the presidency itself” are from an earlier Supreme Court ruling involving Trump.

But this litigation is unique in that Trump defied modern tradition for presidential candidates and residents of the Oval Office by refusing to release his tax returns. Democrats began the legal battle to get them after taking over the House in 2019.

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Attorney General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, who represented the Biden administration, told the Supreme Court that even if there were political elements to the congressional committee’s request, the Judiciary Department should not be involved.

“Throughout our nation’s history, congressional requests for information have been driven by mixed legislative and political motives,” she told the court in a filing. “But time and time again this Court has rejected attempts to invalidate otherwise appropriate legislative requests based on evidence of additional motives.”

She said lower courts have reviewed the commission’s request in accordance with standards set by the Supreme Court in Trump vs. Mazarsthe 2020 decision that sided with Congress in Trump’s attempt to block the release of his data.

“The long-standing precedent of this Court precludes Petitioners’ attempt to get the courts behind the petition’s stated legislative purpose to look at the subjective motives of individual legislators,” she wrote. “Under the specific circumstances of this case, the Chair’s request for tax information from applicants is both within the purview of the committee and consistent with the separation of powers.”

She said the judges in the lower courts had different approaches in finding that there was no breach of the separation of powers in the commission’s request, “but they all came to the same conclusion – and none of them considered the case as particularly close.”

While the case has taken years to go through the courts, those judges have consistently ruled that lawmakers have established the “valid legislative purpose” required for disclosure.

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The appeals court said Trump’s status as a former president played a role in its decision; since all previous presidents going back decades had voluntarily released their tax returns, the request was “minimally intrusive”. But even if Trump were still president, the court ruled that the request would not violate the separation of powers. The court was also unimpressed by Trump’s argument that his tax returns could become public.

“Congressional investigations sometimes expose the private information of the entities, organizations and individuals they investigate,” the panel wrote. “This does not make them overly burdensome. It is the nature of the investigative and legislative processes.”

It also dismissed concerns that granting the request would create tension between Congress and the president — or any former president.

While it is possible that after leaving office Congress may attempt to threaten the incumbent president with an invasive request, each president takes office knowing that upon leaving office he will be subject to the same laws as any other citizens,” the court order said. “This is a feature of our democratic republic, not a bug.”

The case is Trump v. Ways and Means Committee.

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