The law couldn’t be more clear when it comes to the right of Congress to obtain and see the tax returns of the President of the United States. But because Donald Trump is so desperate to stop this from happening, and because Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is willing to commit crimes to protect him, they’re trying to drag out a (losing) court battle for as long as possible. However, the entire playing field just changed.
It turns out an unnamed attorney within the IRS has agreed with every other legal expert on earth when it comes to the fact that Congress is legally entitled to Donald Trump’s tax returns. That attorney wrote an internal memo confirming as much, presumably in order to insulate the IRS from the crimes that Steve Mnuchin is committing in his name. Now, at the perfectly convenient time, that memo has leaked to the media.
To be clear, Steve Mnuchin isn’t going to suddenly back down and voluntarily hand over Trump’s tax returns simply because the Washington Post publicly exposed this memo. This is still a court battle. But now that the IRS itself has confirmed that Mnuchin is breaking the law, it dramatically helps House Democrats in their legal battle.
There is some confusion over how this is being reported, as the memo says that the only argument a sitting president could even try to make is executive privilege. But the courts long ago spelled out that executive privilege doesn’t apply to allegedly criminal behavior. Trump could argue that Congress isn’t allowed to obtain his tax returns simply to embarrass him by exposing what an incompetent businessman he is. But because everyone from the SDNY to Michael Cohen has accused Trump of financial crimes, executive privilege wouldn’t apply here.
We’ll see what happens from here. This memo should help fast track the court battle over Trump’s tax returns. It won’t happen overnight; Trump is so desperate, he’ll take this losing case to the Supreme Court if he has to. But the existence of this memo makes it such a painfully clear decision that Chief Justice John Roberts, for instance, wouldn’t dare vote the wrong way. All that’s left is the question of whether Mnuchin would would refuse to turn them over at that point, as the court would throw him in jail for contempt and keep him there for as long as it takes.
To be clear, this is an entirely separate matter from the current court battles over whether the likes of Mazars and Deutsche Bank are allowed to turn over Donald Trump’s financial records to House Democrats. These financial institutions all appear to be fully willing to do so, once Trump has exhausted his legal appeals. Last month the New York Times confirmed that Deutsche Bank has several years of Trump’s tax returns.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report