Editorial: Congressional committee will get Trump’s taxes, but the public won’t

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel really didn’t need a 39-page opinion on Friday to decide that, yes, Congress has the right to obtain from the Treasury Department and the IRS the personal income tax returns of a president (or a former president). We’ll do it in two sentences: No one is above the law. And that means everyone.

The fight started with six years of Donald Trump’s returns, from 2013 to 2018, (assuming he filed them). House Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal wanted to see those papers, in accordance with a long-standing and crystal clear law giving that panel the right to review, in private, any person’s returns.


Since Trump controlled Treasury, IRS and DOJ, in 2019, administration officials, beclowning themselves, twisted legal logic into knots to say the answer was no. Neal sued and the case is still rattling around even as the U.S. Supreme Court made Trump’s accountants hand over the same documents to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s grand jury examining Trump and his affairs.

But thanks to President Joe Biden, there are now new, normal people at Treasury, IRS and DOJ, and so Neal asked again, on June 16. And this time, the administration lawyers said yes, because they read the law and realize any other answer is absurd.


Having been stalled for two years, Neal is seeking Trump’s returns from the six years from 2015 to 2020. Importantly, this still doesn’t mean that the public will get to see the mysterious 1040s, which was the whole point originally, a half-century norm of personal financial transparency of White House contenders and presidents that Trump ignored. If someone on Neal’s committee leaks them, they’ll be breaking the very laws they claim to respect.

The website of the government agency handling this says: “The Office of Legal Counsel is not authorized to give legal advice to private persons.” But legal advice for Trump’s private matter is exactly what they were doing for him.