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Congress wins access to Trump’s tax returns from Supreme Court

The former president hoped the conservative majority would take up his appeal to block a longtime Democratic goal of examining his tax returns. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to shield former President Donald Trump’s tax returns from a congressional subpoena. 

None of the justices publicly dissented from the order, which offers no explanation for the denial. Though Chief Justice John Roberts had temporarily obliged the former president’s request at the beginning of the month, Tuesday's order vacates that administrative stay. 

The battle over congressional oversight of Trump’s taxes began in 2019 when the Ways and Means Committee first requested six years of Trump’s personal and business filings. Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts has said the committee wants access to the former president’s filings as part of a review of the IRS audit process for presidents and vice presidents. 

Trump claims the committee’s motives are less legislative and more of political variety. 

“The Committee’s purpose in requesting President Trump’s tax returns has nothing to do with funding or staffing issues at the IRS and everything to do with releasing the President’s tax information to the public,” Cameron Norris, an attorney for Trump with Consovoy McCarthy, wrote in the application to the conservative-majority high court for emergency relief.

Lawmakers claim that Trump’s unconventional background amplifies the need for oversight in the area. They also deny that Trump faces unique scrutiny, noting that former President Nixon’s returns were reviewed by Congress as well.

“Former President Donald Trump’s term in office raised such concerns anew — and amplified them,” Douglas Letter, an attorney at the Office of General Counsel for the House of Representatives, wrote in the committee’s brief. “Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Trump owned a complex web of businesses, engaged in business activities internationally, had a history of aggressive tax avoidance (as he has boasted), claimed to be under ‘continuous audit’ since before his Presidency, and repeatedly denounced IRS audits of him as ‘unfair.’” (Parentheses in original.)

Trump has been attempting to block lawmakers’ access to his taxes since the start of his single term in office. Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially blocked early attempts on the basis of partisan motives. 

Another legal battle in New York delayed the probe, by which time Trump lost reelection. The White House under President Joe Biden now favors review. 

Trump was unable to convince a district court or court of appeals to halt the committee’s request, leaving the Supreme Court as his last option. The justices’ ruling on the matter could be the final word in the battle with congressional control up in the air following the midterm elections

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