The US Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a committee in Congress from accessing former president Donald Trump’s tax returns, a delay that could jeopardise the panel’s long-running inquiry with just one week to go until midterm elections.
Trump’s returns were set to have been shared with the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee as early as Thursday. But chief justice John Roberts on Tuesday ordered a temporary halt to the document transfer from the Treasury while the Supreme Court evaluates the matter.
Roberts said the House committee may respond to his decision by November 10, two days after Americans head to the polls for midterm elections that will determine which political party controls Congress for the next two years.
Democrats control both the House of Representatives and the Senate by slim margins. But midterms have historically favoured the party out of power, and non-partisan analysts are predicting that the Republicans will seize control of the House, the lower chamber of Congress, in the November 8 elections.
While the balance of power would not change until January, when new members of Congress are sworn in, the shift to a Republican-controlled House would have significant implications for the Ways and Means Committee probe into Trump’s taxes, as Republicans would be likely to drop the request for the former president’s records.
Trump did not immediately comment on the Supreme Court’s order. The former president, who is criss-crossing the country in support of candidates he has endorsed ahead of the midterms, has long fought to keep his tax records sealed. He is also considering another run for the White House in 2024.
The US appeals court for the District of Columbia earlier this year ruled the Democrat-led congressional committee could access Trump’s tax returns.
Trump appealed this decision, arguing the panel was overstepping by seeking access to excessive information. He said the committee, which had requested tax returns from 2015 to 2020, should review one year’s worth of material at most and only receive audit documents instead of returns, according to legal filings. He also said tax returns filed when he was not in office were irrelevant to the committee, adding its request was “overboard” as it did not guarantee confidentiality.
The federal appeals court last week denied Trump’s request to reconsider its decision. In a petition to the Supreme Court filed on Monday, he said the decision should be halted since the panel’s “request implicates the separation of powers at some level” and the lower court’s ruling, if left untouched, “will have far-reaching implications”.
The Ways and Means Committee said it “maintains the law is on our side, and will file a timely response as requested”, and that its chair, Richard Neal, “looks forward to the Supreme Court’s expeditious consideration”.