Former President Donald Trump asked a court on Aug. 4 not to allow Congress to obtain his tax records, arguing that the Department of Justice shouldn’t have reversed itself on the matter last week.
The department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) said in a memorandum last week that tax officials must hand over the records to a congressional panel because the panel’s demand for the documents serves a legitimate legislative purpose.
That was a shift from 2019, when the department backed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after he declined to give the returns to Congress, asserting that the attempt by the House Ways and Means Committee was partisan and lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.
Trump’s lawyers noted that Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the panel, has previously said that he wanted the tax returns made public and that other Democrats have suggested that the returns could contain damaging information, including some sort of connection to Russia.
“The new OLC opinion does not deny the record of impermissible intent, but instead gives wobbly justifications and shallow reasoning for why the executive branch should ignore that evidence,” they wrote in the new filing.
“The government’s complete reversal on the legality of Chairman Neal’s requests came, of course, under President [Joe] Biden, a Democrat who ran against President Trump and made the disclosure of President Trump’s tax returns a campaign issue.”
Trump is asserting violations of federal law and the Constitution, including the First Amendment.
Neal said in 2019 that he wanted six years of Trump’s returns to ascertain whether the Internal Revenue Service properly enforces federal tax laws against sitting presidents.
The recent reversal by the Department of Justice shows that “the law is on our side,” Neal said in a recent statement.
Trump’s attorneys said Neal’s requests are “pretextual,” citing the earlier ruling by the department.
“No one could reasonably believe that the Committee seeks six years of President Trump’s tax returns because of a newly discovered interest in legislating on the presidential audit process,” the agency’s legal office said at the time.
The court should declare Neal’s requests unlawful and unenforceable and block enforcement of them, the new filing states.
Some of Trump’s tax records were given over to the Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York earlier this year, after the Supreme Court declined to intervene. Those records haven’t been made public.