WASHINGTON (CN) – Aiming to pin down lingering questions about the president’s financial ties to Russia, a public interest group has sued the IRS to try to force the release of Donald Trump’s individual tax returns.
EPIC, short for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, emphasizes in its April 15 complaint that the disclosure of Trump’s tax records since 2010 is “a matter of unique importance and public interest.”
“The release of Donald J. Trump’s tax returns would help determine whether statements regarding his business relations with Russia and the Russian government are correct or not correct,” the 14-page filing states.
EPIC’s federal lawsuit in Washington comes two months after the group asked the IRS under the Freedom of Information Act for any Trump tax returns and other records that would show financial connections to Russian officials or Russian businesses.
After the IRS closed the Feb. 14 FOIA request, it rejected the public interest group’s appeal and warned that it would not process any future request about the matter.
By filing its lawsuit on a Saturday, EPIC coincided with the historical tax day and the nationwide protest of thousands of Americans demanding that the president release his tax returns.
EPIC slammed President Trump for what it called his “unprecedented” bucking of the long-standing tradition in U.S. presidential candidates release their tax returns.
Politifact notes that Gerald Ford is the only major-party nominee since 1976 who refused to release his tax returns, opting instead to release a tax summary. While some candidates have released numerous years of returns, several – including Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney – released only one and two years of returns, respectively.
Citing public opinion polls and a petition that garnered more than 1 million signatures, the public interest group said that the American public favors disclosure of the tax records.
The group claims that the IRS has the authority to release Trump’s tax returns in order to clarify misstatements of fact under the Tax Reform Act of 1976, enacted after President Nixon resigned.
EPIC says the agency has invoked that authority twice before, once in 1981 to correct false statements made by tax protesters about abusive tax shelters, and again in 1997 to correct false statements about IRS investigations of tax-exempt organizations.
Many of the president’s business holdings around the globe remain shrouded in secrecy, an issue that has taken on greater import after FBI Director James Comey revealed last month that the agency is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with that effort.
Undisclosed contacts between members of Trump’s transition team and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak have hovered over his nascent presidency, leading his former national security advisor Michael Flynn to resign and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step aside from election-related matters.
Late last month, Senate investigators said they plan to question the president’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner about meetings he arranged with Kislyak as part of its broad inquiry of links between Russian officials and Trump associates.
In contrast to a July tweet in which then-candidate Trump said, “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” news outlets quoted conflicting statement’s by his son Donald Trump Jr. at a 2008 real estate conference in Manhattan.
“In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S.,” Trump Jr. said, according to eTurboNews, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York.
“We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump Jr. continued, according to the Sept. 15, 2008, article. “There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.”
These quotations are misattributed in EPIC’s complaint to Trump son-in-law Kushner, but EPIC attorney Marc Rotenberg acknowledged the error in an email, adding that the group would likely file an amended complaint to correct the attribution.
Rotenberg’s group faults the IRS for not seeking “permission from the Joint Commission on Taxation to release the records EPIC has requested.”
The IRS did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the lawsuit.
EPIC wants its FOIA request reopened and an immediate start to its records search.
Rotenberg said this lawsuit is part of a larger effort by the public interest group to ferret out the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and protect democratic institutions from similar attacks in the future.
He noted that the group has received favorable orders in two other outstanding FOIA lawsuits against the Office of the Director for National Intelligence and the FBI that are part of this effort.
The FBI has set a May 11 deadline for it to produce the first wave of records on the bureau’s response to Russian interference in the U.S. election. Subsequent releases will follow on May 26 and July 25.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras also ordered the ODNI to process and release by May 3 all nonexempt portions of the full Intelligence Community report, which concluded that Russia had interfered in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.