The Justice Department released an opinion Friday that backed up the Treasury Department’s decision not to give Congress copies of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, concluding that the “true aim” was to make the documents public and that “is not a legitimate legislative purpose.”
The Office of Legal Counsel opinion comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to comply with a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns from House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal last month.
The OLC acknowledges that a law does not require Neal to state a purpose when requesting tax returns.
But the agency concluded that Congress can’t give itself the right to compel information that does not serve a legitimate legislative purpose, and that Neal’s request was “pretextual.”
To back up that conclusion, the opinion says Neal did not explain why he needed to review Trump’s tax returns from before his presidency if he were really interested in understanding how the IRS audits presidential tax returns.
“Nor did the Chairman request any information concerning the IRS’s actual policies or practices governing presidential audits or the audit histories for any President other than President Trump,” the OLC wrote. “In view of these marked discrepancies in the public record, Treasury, quite reasonably, concluded that Chairman Neal had not articulated the real reason for his request.”
That means the request “amounted to an unprecedented use of the Committee’s authority and raised a serious risk of abuse,” the OLC wrote.
Neal’s subpoena covered six years of the president’s personal tax returns and six years of returns from eight of the companies that he owns. Democrats have leaned on a statute that requires the Treasury Department to provide “any” tax return requested by the Ways and Means chairman in writing.
Prior to the subpoena Neal made written requests twice in April, but was refused. At the time, Mnuchin argued that Democrats intended to use the returns to their political advantage and that they should not be handed over.
The efforts to obtain Trump’s personal tax returns have been a priority among activists and Democrats since taking control of the House at the start of this year.
Trump was the first major party presidential candidate since Richard Nixon not to release his tax returns, despite multiple promises on the campaign trail and since. At the time, he claimed he would not do so while under audit by the IRS.