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Trump's Reasons for Keeping His Taxes Secret Are Starting to Crumble

An IRS memo says he can only refuse to hand over his returns if he invokes executive privilege — which isn't the way he's been resisting.

by Tim Marcin
May 22 2019, 3:06pm

There’s yet another twist in the ongoing saga of President’s Trump’s fight to keep his tax returns secret.

A confidential draft of an IRS memo from last fall, obtained by the Washington Post, said the president’s returns have to be turned over unless the president invokes executive privilege, according to the Post. But the Trump administration has been refusing for a different reason — that Congress didn’t have a “legitimate legislative purpose” to seek the returns. For the past several weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to comply with a request and a subpoena from House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) for six years of Trump's returns.

The memo — which the IRS told the Post was a draft written by a lawyer in the Office of Chief Counsel and didn’t represent the agency’s “official position” — effectively stated the lawmakers don’t need a legislative purpose.

The memo is just the latest sign that Trump is going to lose this battle, and a rash of recent developments on other fronts promise we’ll soon be seeing even more on his finances. Here’s a quick reminder of what else is going down.

  • The New York State Assembly was expected to pass a bill Wednesday that would allow congressional committees to seek the president’s state tax returns. The bill also has the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
  • On Monday U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled Trump’s lawsuit to prevent his accounting firm, Mazars USA, from handing over documents to House Democrats didn’t have any merit. “This judge ruled not only in favor of Congress and their investigative authority, but in such profound language that it leaves, as far as I’m concerned, no wiggle room for appeal,” said Martin J. Sheil, who served for decades as an IRS investigator, to VICE News.
  • Meanwhile, a judge was scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in Trump’s lawsuit to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from turning over financial documents to congressional lawmakers.

While the draft IRS memo reportedly stated Trump could only block his tax returns from being turned over via executive privilege, it’s still not clear if executive privilege would even apply in this case. It’s typically defined as the president’s right to deny requests related to the administration's internal talks and opinions. The Post reported that the draft memo noted that the law “might be read to preclude a claim of executive privilege” when it comes to a president’s tax returns.

As various congressional committees pursue info on Trump’s finances, he’s digging in his heels, hiring more lawyers, saying he’s willing to take the battle over his tax returns to the Supreme Court. It could be a long fight.

Cover: President Donald Trump boards Air Force One for a trip to a Montoursville, Pa., for a campaign rally, Monday, May 20, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)