Former United States President Donald Trump during the Conservative Political Action Conference August 6, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. Brandon Bell (AFP)
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a House committee requesting to see former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. The ruling ends more than 19 months of contention since the House Ways and Means Committee requested disclosure of tax returns in 2019 and the Republican tried by all means to prevent it, including once outside the House of Representatives. This is a victory for the Democrats, who are requesting the documents, although Trump’s legal team is expected to appeal, either to the DC Circuit or even to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Washington is located, has ruled against the former president, finding the committee’s request justified in the context of its legislative work. The judges believe the petition violates “no principle of the separation of powers” and is not unconstitutional, the tycoon’s lawyers argued. For Trump, it’s the second setback in hours after the FBI searched his Florida home Monday for classified official documents.
The three judges that make up Columbia’s Court of Appeals have settled with House Democrats who initially requested five years of federal tax returns from Trump and several of his business entities in 2019, when he was still president. In 2021, after White House relief, the committee returned to the fray with a renewed request for tax information signed by Democrat Richard Neal, who chairs the committee. The 33-page ruling rules out any vengeful political animus in the lawsuit: “While Congress may attempt to threaten the incumbent president with an intrusive solicitation upon his departure from office, any president assumes it will.” [el poder] knowing that once he leaves office he will be subject to the same laws as all other citizens,” wrote Judge David Sentelle, who was responsible for drafting the ruling. “It’s a feature of our democratic republic, not a mistake.”
“We have followed the court process with great patience and our position has once again been affirmed by the courts,” Neal said in a statement. “I am pleased that this long-awaited statement makes it clear that the law is on our side. When we receive the returns, we will begin monitoring the IRS’s mandatory audit program.” Similarly, the House of Representatives committee tweeted, “We hope to receive the requested returns and audit documentation promptly.”
The ruling came after a district judge in December 2021 rejected Trump’s offer to withdraw his testimony from the committee, ruling that the legislative interest outweighed any deference or special treatment to Trump as a former president. As early as July 2021, the Department of Justice had determined that the IRS should release such data, which made it easier for them to be published, as the Court of Appeals now confirms. In another case, in 2020 a Manhattan appeals court ordered Trump to turn his tax returns on his Manhattan tax day to Cyrus Vance, who was investigating the possible concealment of payments to two women to cover up extramarital sex, which the Republican always has denied.
Trump became the first president in 40 years, since Gerald Ford, to not release his tax records because he wanted to keep details about his wealth and the activities of his family business, the Trump Organization, private. It is the very family business that is the subject of two investigations, one criminal and one civil, in New York into alleged tampering with accounts to obtain concessional loans and tax breaks.
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The Ways and Means Committee mentioned above has broad powers, with direct authority over taxes, tariffs, and other revenue-raising measures, as well as numerous programs, including Social Security, unemployment benefits, or public insurance for the elderly Medicare. The committee’s decision comes hours after an FBI search of the tycoon’s Florida residence tightened the fence of justice and raised new doubts about his political future. Trump’s crusade to prevent the disclosure of his tax information appears to be numbered.
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