Appeals Court Rules Trump's Tax Returns Must be Released to Congress

Appeals Court Rules Trump's Tax Returns Must be Released to Congress

The Internal Revenue Service must hand over former President Trump’s tax returns to a House committee, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday, dismissing a long-running legal challenge to block tax officials from complying with a request for the records from Democratic lawmakers. 

A three-judge panel for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously sided with the Biden administration and the House Ways and Means Committee, ruling against Trump’s arguments against the committee’s authority, his privacy concerns and his claim that complying with the request would be unconstitutional. 

“The 2021 Request seeks information that may inform the United States House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means as to the efficacy of the Presidential Audit Program, and therefore, was made in furtherance of a subject upon which legislation could be had,” Judge David Sentelle wrote in the panel’s opinion.  

“Further, the Request did not violate separation of powers principles under any of the potentially applicable tests primarily because the burden on the Executive Branch and the Trump Parties is relatively minor.”  

Sentelle was appointed by former President Reagan. The two other judges on the panel, Karen Henderson and Robert Wilkins, were appointed by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Obama, respectively. 

Attorneys representing Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Ways and Means committee, applauded the decision on Tuesday.

“With great patience, we followed the judicial process, and yet again, our position has been affirmed by the Courts,” Neal said in a statement. “I’m pleased that this long-anticipated opinion makes clear the law is on our side. When we receive the returns, we will begin our oversight of the IRS’s mandatory presidential audit program.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also described the order as a victory.

“Access to the former president’s tax returns is crucial to upholding the public interest, our national security and our Democracy.  We look forward to the IRS complying with this ruling and delivering the requested documents so that Ways and Means can begin its oversight responsibilities of the mandatory presidential audit program,” she said in a statement.

Neal first requested the tax returns from the Treasury Department in 2019. The Trump administration refused to comply with the request and the House committee sued in federal court later that year. 

After the Biden administration took over last year, the Justice Department reversed its legal position in the case and tax officials were ordered to comply with the request, prompting Trump to file a motion in his personal capacity to try to prevent the documents from being turned over. 

Federal tax law requires Treasury officials to hand over individual tax returns upon receiving a written request from the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. 

Trump’s lawyers had argued that the law is unconstitutional and that compliance with the request would pose First Amendment and separation of powers concerns. 

But the three-judge panel on Tuesday rejected those arguments as well as the former president’s allegations that the request, and the willingness to comply, is improper because of the political motivations of the two branches. 

“While it is possible that Congress may attempt to threaten the sitting President with an invasive request after leaving office, every President takes office knowing that he will be subject to the same laws as all other citizens upon leaving office,” the decision reads. “This is a feature of our democratic republic, not a bug.”