Justice Department says IRS must give Trump's tax returns to Congress

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CBS News 30 July, 2021 - 07:58pm 39 views

In the 39-page opinion, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that the committee "has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President's tax information," and said that "the statute at issue here is unambiguous."

The decision is a reversal of a 2019 opinion from the same office, which was then under the direction of the Trump administration. 

The new opinion states that the previous decision, which concluded the House committee request was "disingenuous," had failed to take into account that Congress is a co-equal branch to the executive. The office now finds that the previous administration, in denying the request for the tax records, "failed to afford the Committee the respect due to a coordinate branch of government."

In April 2019, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat, requested from the Treasury Department Mr. Trump's individual tax records and those of eight Trump-related businesses for 2013 to 2018 to examine IRS enforcement of tax laws that applied to the president. Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked the OLC how to respond. 

At that time, the OLC advised Mnuchin that the committee had to "demonstrate a legitimate legislative purpose" for its request, and went on to say that since Treasury had concluded that the committee's request was a "pretext" and had requested Mr. Trump's tax records "for the purpose of public release," the OLC agreed with Treasury that the request was not a legitimate one and banned Treasury from providing House Ways and Means with the tax records.

The opinion issued Friday disputed the Trump administration's determination that the committee's interest in the returns was simply a ruse to hide underlying political motivations. The OLC on Friday called the finding "irrelevant."

"Congress is composed of elected members who stand for re-election. It is, therefore, neither unusual nor illegitimate for partisan or other political considerations to factor into Congress's work," the opinion says. "If the mere presence of a political motivation were enough to disqualify a congressional request, the effect would be to deny Congress its authority to seek information — a result that is incompatible with the Constitution."

The new opinion states that the executive branch may conclude a records request from Congress lacks a legitimate legislative purpose "only in exceptional circumstances."

The Ways and Means Committee will review the former president's tax returns from the years 2015 through 2020, and investigate whether he complied with tax laws.

"As I have maintained for years, the Committee's case is very strong and the law is on our side. I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward," Neal said in response to the new OLC opinion.

The review will look at several matters, including the lengths the IRS can enforce federal tax laws against the president, whether Mr. Trump's taxes could unearth "hidden" business relationships that may post conflicts of interests and whether his foreign business dealings influenced his time in office.

"Access to former President Trump's tax returns is a matter of national security," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president."

In February, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. obtained former President Trump's tax records after the Supreme Court declined to shield the secretive documents from investigators. Vance's office has been investigating the former president's business dealings in 2018, spanning from alleged hush-money payments made to women who claimed to have engaged in affairs with Mr. Trump.

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Trump Pressed Justice Dept. to Declare Election Results Corrupt, Notes Show

The New York Times 30 July, 2021 - 10:50pm

“Leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, the former president is said to have told top law enforcement officials.

WASHINGTON — President Donald J. Trump pressed top Justice Department officials late last year to declare that the election was corrupt even though they had found no instances of widespread fraud, so he and his allies in Congress could use the assertion to try to overturn the results, according to new documents provided to lawmakers.

The demands were an extraordinary instance of a president interfering with an agency that is typically more independent from the White House to advance his personal agenda. They are also the latest example of Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging campaign during his final weeks in office to delegitimize the election results.

The exchange unfolded during a phone call on Dec. 27 in which Mr. Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the Justice Department had found no evidence for. Mr. Donoghue warned that the department had no power to change the outcome of the election. Mr. Trump replied that he did not expect that, according to notes Mr. Donoghue took memorializing the conversation.

“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, Mr. Donoghue wrote in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.

Mr. Trump did not name the lawmakers, but at other points during the call, he mentioned Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, whom he described as a “fighter”; Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, who at the time promoted the idea that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump; and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, whom Mr. Trump praised for “getting to bottom of things.”

Mr. Jordan and Mr. Johnson denied any role in Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department.

“Congressman Jordan did not, has not, and would not pressure anyone at the Justice Department about the 2020 election,” said Russell Dye, a spokesman for Mr. Jordan, who voted to overturn election results in key states but has downplayed his role in the president’s pressure campaign. “He continues to agree with President Trump that it is perfectly appropriate to raise concerns about election integrity.”

Mr. Johnson had “no conversations with President Trump about the D.O.J. questioning the election results,” said his spokeswoman, Alexa Henning. She noted that he had acknowledged Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the president-elect but that he had also called for what he sees as election irregularities to be fully investigated and addressed to restore confidence in future elections.

Mr. Perry did not respond to requests for comment. He has continued to assert Mr. Trump won, but has not been tied directly to the White House effort to keep him in office.

The phone call by Mr. Trump was perhaps the most audacious moment in a monthslong pressure campaign aimed at enlisting the Justice Department in his crusade to overturn the election results.

After the departure of Mr. Rosen’s predecessor, William P. Barr, became public on Dec. 14, Mr. Trump and his allies harangued Mr. Rosen and his top deputies nearly every day until Jan. 6, when Congress met to certify the Electoral College and was disrupted by Mr. Trump’s supporters storming the Capitol, according to emails and other documents obtained by Congress and interviews with former Trump administration officials.

The conversations often included complaints about unfounded voter fraud conspiracy theories, frustration that the Justice Department would not ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the election and admonishments that department leaders had failed to fight hard enough for Mr. Trump, the officials said.

The Justice Department provided Mr. Donoghue’s notes to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating the Trump administration’s efforts to unlawfully reverse the election results.

Typically, the department has fought to keep secret any accounts of private discussions between a president and his cabinet to avoid setting a precedent that would prevent officials in future administrations from candidly advising presidents out of concern that their conversations would later be made public.

But handing over the notes to Congress is part of a pattern of allowing scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. The Biden Justice Department also told Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and other former officials this week that they could provide unrestricted testimony to investigators with the House Oversight and Reform and the Senate Judiciary Committees.

The department reasoned that congressional investigators were examining potential wrongdoing by a sitting president, an extraordinary circumstance, according to letters sent to the former officials. Because executive privilege is meant to benefit the country, rather than the president as an individual, invoking it over Mr. Trump’s efforts to push his personal agenda would be inappropriate, the department concluded.

“These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement.

“Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Mr. Donoghue said, adding that the department had conducted “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and had not found evidence to support his claims. “We look at allegations but they don’t pan out,” the officials told Mr. Trump, according to the notes.

The department found that the error rate of ballot counting in Michigan was 0.0063 percent, not the 68 percent that the president asserted; it did not find evidence of a conspiracy theory that an employee in Pennsylvania had tampered with ballots; and after examining video and interviewing witnesses, it found no evidence of ballot fraud in Fulton County, Ga., according to the notes.

Mr. Trump, undeterred, brushed off the department’s findings. “OK fine — but what about the others?” Mr. Donoghue wrote in his notes describing the president’s remarks. Mr. Trump asked Mr. Donoghue to travel to Fulton County to verify signatures on ballots.

The people “saying that the election isn’t corrupt are corrupt,” Mr. Trump told the officials, adding that they needed to act. “Not much time left.”

At another point, Mr. Donoghue said that the department could quickly verify or disprove the assertion that more ballots were cast in Pennsylvania than there were voters.

“Should be able to check on that quickly, but understand that the D.O.J. can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Donoghue wrote in his notes.

The officials also told Mr. Trump that the Justice Department had no evidence to support a lawsuit regarding the election results. “We are not in a position based on the evidence,” they said. “We can only act on the actual evidence developed.”

Mr. Trump castigated the officials, saying that “thousands of people called” their local U.S. attorney’s offices to complain about the election and that “nobody trusts the F.B.I.” He said that “people are angry — blaming D.O.J. for inaction.”

“You guys may not be following the internet the way I do,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document.

In a moment of foreshadowing, Mr. Trump said, “people tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in,” referring to the acting chief of the Justice Department’s civil division, who had also encouraged department officials to intervene in the election. “People want me to replace D.O.J. leadership.”

“You should have the leadership you want,” Mr. Donoghue replied. But it would not change the department’s position on a lack of widespread election fraud, he noted.

Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen did not know that Mr. Perry had introduced Mr. Clark to Mr. Trump. One week later, they would be forced to fight Mr. Clark for their jobs in an Oval Office showdown.

During the call, Mr. Trump also told the Justice Department officials to “figure out what to do” with Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s son. “People will criticize the D.O.J. if he’s not investigated for real,” he told them, violating longstanding guidelines against White House intervention in criminal investigations or other law enforcement actions.

Two days after the phone call with Mr. Trump, Mr. Donoghue took notes of a meeting with Justice Department officials that also included Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows; the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone; and the White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin. They met to discuss a conspiracy theory known as Italygate, which asserts without evidence that people in Italy used military technology to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States.

The Justice Department officials told the White House that they had assigned someone to look into the matter, according to the notes and a person briefed on the meeting. They did not mention that the department was looking into the theory to debunk it, the person said.

While the Justice Department officials kept the pressure campaign hidden from public view, the emails obtained by Congress and interviews with former Trump administration officials show they were alarmed by Mr. Trump’s behavior, particularly when he complained about the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung J. Pak, whom he viewed as not doing enough to examine voter fraud accusations there.

Mr. Pak abruptly stepped down on Jan. 4, after Mr. Donoghue told him about the president’s plot with Mr. Clark and of Mr. Trump’s concerns about Atlanta, according to documents and interviews.

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MSNBC 30 July, 2021 - 10:50pm

Trump to DOJ: 'Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me'

CNN 30 July, 2021 - 10:50pm

Updated 1:27 PM ET, Fri July 30, 2021

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Treasury Must Turn Over Trump’s Taxes to Congress, Says Justice Dept.

The Indian Express 30 July, 2021 - 07:47pm

The Treasury Department must turn over six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to House investigators, the Justice Department said in a legal opinion issued Friday that potentially paves the way for their eventual release to Congress and the public.

The 39-page opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel dealt a sharp legal blow to a yearslong campaign by Trump to keep his tax information secret, reversing a Trump administration position that had shielded the documents from Congress. Rejecting that view, the Biden administration opinion said that a request for the tax information first lodged in 2019 by the House Ways and Means Committee was legitimate and that the Treasury Department had no valid grounds to refuse it.

“The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former president’s tax information,” the opinion said. “Treasury must furnish the information to the committee.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill, who said they were examining the IRS’ presidential audit program and Trump’s conflicts of interest, hailed the decision as a victory for congressional oversight powers and for national security. The House had sued to enforce the request after the Trump Treasury Department objected, and litigation remains ongoing.

“The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Still, the matter remains far from settled. Biden administration officials said that the Treasury Department intended to comply with the legal opinion and would soon inform the courts that it had reached an agreement to hand the documents over to the House — lowering a key barrier. But Trump could still take legal action to try to get a judge in the case to block their transfer. That could take months or longer to work out.

Nor does the development necessarily mean that Trump’s tax information would immediately become public. Rules governing the sharing of sensitive tax information with the Ways and Means Committee require the panel to hold formal votes if it wants to share any of the information with the broader House or the public or even include it in a committee report released to the public.

“As I have maintained for years, the committee’s case is very strong and the law is on our side,” Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Ronald Fischetti did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Friday. Reached by phone, Phyllis Malgieri, Fischetti’s legal partner, said, “Knowing him for 32 years, the Italian in him, I’m sure he would have something to say” about the decision. Trump’s spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Republicans on Capitol Hill quickly derided the decision as “politically motivated.” They warned that it could usher in a new era of political warfare in which politicians rifled through the tax information of their political enemies.

“If politicians in Congress can demand and ultimately make public the president’s private tax returns, what stops them from doing the same to others they view as a political enemy?” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House tax-writing committee.

In fact, though, Trump was an outlier in his refusal to publicly release the tax documents as a candidate or as president.

The determination by the Justice Department came more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s tax returns must be shared with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which had sought them as part of a criminal investigation into the Trump Organization.

Last year, The New York Times obtained and analyzed decades’ worth of tax information for Trump and his companies that showed the former president had gone years without paying federal income taxes and reported hundreds of millions of dollars in business losses. But the information sought by the House would likely provide a more comprehensive window into his complex financial dealings.

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