The Supreme Court’s rejection of an emergency petition from former President Donald Trump to block the release of his tax returns marks the culmination of a three-year legal battle with the House Ways and Means Committee — and the confirmation of a simple law that Congressional investigators broad access to tax return information.
While it’s unclear how soon the filings will be turned over by the Treasury Department — and how the committee’s work might be affected by the expected move from the House of Representatives to a Republican majority — there’s no doubt the filings contain a potential treasure trove of information that Trump does not want revealed.
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The documents may include a more complete picture of the 500 or so LLCs Trump uses in his various business dealings by shedding light on how income from such “pass-through” entities was treated by Trump in his tax returns, as well as information about foreign assets and the charities he claims to fund.
The value of this information can be seen in how hard Trump has tried to hide it from scrutiny and how Trump investigators – and Trump haters – have treated his tax returns as a “holy grail” for holding Trump accountable. But like all great quests, the goal is less important than the means.
The way congressional investigators will finally have access to Trump’s filings says a lot about the state of our country. Unlike any other president since the 1970s, Trump refused to release his tax returns, despite his commitment to do so. And when the Ways and Means Committee sought access to them, it was blocked by Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — who refused to hand over the tax return, relying in part on the support of Trump’s Justice Department.
After a lawsuit was filed, Judge Trevor McFadden (a Trump appointee) sat on the case for two and a half years before finally ruling that the reports should be released. But the judge still delayed the release until the D.C. Circuit federal appeals court could rule.
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After the DC Circuit also ruled against Trump — and Trump’s request for a full en banc panel hearing was rejected by the appeals court — the release continued to be thwarted by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who called for an adjournment of act issued. Roberts did so on November 3 — days before the midterm elections, which were widely expected at the time to result in Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives.
Contrary to Trump’s arguments and his Treasury Secretary’s claims, the disclosure of a president’s tax returns to congressional investigators was not unprecedented. In 1973, after mounting concerns about whether President Richard Nixon had underpaid his taxes, the IRS turned Nixon’s tax returns over to a congressional committee on the same day.
The investigation into Nixon’s tax situation was led by reporting from The New York Times, Washington Postand the Providence Journal-Bulletin actually obtaining Nixon’s tax returns.
Sounds familiar? It has to, because in 2020 The New York Times obtained tax filing records for Trump, covering more than two decades, which revealed that Trump had not paid income taxes for years, engaged in questionable tax practices, and received more money from foreign sources than previously known.
The scandals of the Nixon/Watergate era have often led to and provided insight into the abuse of power issues that have arisen with Trump — but there is a crucial difference between the political climate of the time and ours. As has often been noted, the three branches banded together to hold Richard Nixon accountable – with Congress holding hearings, the federal courts (including the Supreme Court) enforcing the validity of the investigations, including criminal investigations, and Nixon’s own Justice Department refused to give in. to such demands from Nixon as the dismissal of the Watergate special counsel.
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Such a unit did not exist opposite to opposite Trump.
Trump’s Justice and Treasury Departments aided his efforts to protect his taxes, and the federal judiciary delayed the process for years. As Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey pointed out, the Ways and Means Committee’s search for Trump’s taxes has lasted 1,329 days — nearly the length of the American Civil War. Ironically, the Supreme Court ruling against Trump also came on the anniversary of another 1,000 days — namely, the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, ending his 1,000 days in office.
Both events marked turning points in American history: the Civil War showed our determination to fight for our democracy, and the assassination of JFK marked the end of what is considered a more innocent time in our history.
In contrast, Donald Trump’s taxes don’t seem so monumental, but the long struggle to get them says a lot about the dysfunctions of our current system.
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