The Supreme Court has cleared the way for US lawmakers to access Donald Trump’s tax returns, following numerous attempts by the former president to keep them from a congressional committee investigating his conduct in office.
The brief unsigned order handed down on Tuesday means the Democratic-led Ways and Means Committee — which has been asking for the files since 2019 — could get its hands on six years of Trump’s tax returns before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and its committees in January.
The Treasury, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service, initially refused to provide the documents while Trump was in office, and the former president sued to stop their release under Joe Biden’s administration. He lost in both district court and on appeal, prompting him to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.
Trump’s lawyers had argued that the committee was overly broad in its requests and should review one year’s worth of audit documents at most.
The former president’s lawyers told the Supreme Court that the appeals court’s decision “implicates the separation of powers at some level” and would have “far-reaching implications” if left to stand. Chief Justice John Roberts ordered a temporary halt to the document transfer from the Treasury just a week before the midterm elections earlier this month.
Republicans won a slim majority in the House, while Democrats retained control of the Senate. Days later, Trump announced he would be a candidate for president again in 2024, prompting the Biden administration to appoint a special counsel to oversee probes into the former president’s role in the January 6 2021 riots on Capitol Hill and his retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home after leaving office.
The Supreme Court’s order was the second defeat for Trump at the high court within the space of a few weeks, after justices in October rejected the former president’s attempt to get them to intervene in the legal fight over the FBI’s search of his Florida home. The order also came amid a flurry of other developments in the mounting legal challenges facing him, his family and his businesses, including a criminal tax fraud trial against the Trump Organization that is drawing to a close in Manhattan.
Separately on Tuesday, a federal appeals court heard arguments from the US government and Trump’s lawyer over whether an independent special master should continue to oversee the review of documents investigators seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump’s lawyers also appeared in a New York court, where a judge set a preliminary trial date of October 2023 for a case brought by the state’s attorney-general alleging financial fraud by the former president and his business organisations. Alina Habba, who is representing Trump in the case, indicated her client could testify at the trial, which would take place just weeks before the 2024 presidential primary season begins.
However, the congressional investigation into Trump’s tax affairs is likely to be dropped in just over a month, when Republicans take control of the House. Lawmakers vying to lead the Ways and Means Committee — Missouri’s Jason Smith, Florida’s Vern Buchanan and Nebraska’s Adrian Smith — confirmed to CNBC they would shut down the probe if appointed.