The Slatest

Internal Draft of IRS Legal Memo Found Only One Legal Justification to Keep Trump’s Taxes From Congress

The Internal Revenue Service building stands on April 15, 2019 in Washington, DC.
The Internal Revenue Service building on April 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

An Internal Revenue Service legal memo drafted last fall concluded the agency must turn over President Trump’s tax returns to Congress unless Trump invoked executive privilege, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The memo—officially titled “Congressional Access to Returns and Return Information”—was authored by the agency’s counsel’s office before the new Congress, but did not ultimately become the agency’s official public position. The legal reasoning, prepared before the current head of the IRS and chief counsel took over, gives some perspective on just how far the Trump administration is twisting the law to cover for the president.

Trump has famously refused to disclose his tax returns and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has followed suit, deciding for himself that Congress doesn’t have a legitimate legislative interest in Trump’s taxes. The 10-page memo, however, comes to a different legal conclusion: that handing over the returns “is mandatory” and the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met…” “[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee … to state a reason for the request,” the memo concludes. On Friday, Mnuchin defied a congressional subpoena for the president’s taxes from the House Ways and Means Committee, the very committee charged with writing America’s tax code.

The memo itself, the Post notes, did not mention Trump by name, and was likely authored in anticipation of an incoming Democratic Congress in January 2019 that pledged to provide more aggressive oversight. The memo was never submitted to the Treasury Department, according to a spokesperson.