The Justice Department has paved the way for a House panel to get former President Donald Trump's tax returns in what could be the beginning of the end of years of delay and court battles.
In a new legal opinion released Friday, the department concluded that the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked "sufficient" legislative reasons for access to the sensitive materials, including what the panel said were "serious concerns" about how the Internal Revenue Service is operating an audit program for presidents.
The ruling's author, acting Assistant Attorney General Dawn Johnsen, pointed out that the move amounts to a reversal of a 2019 memo by the same office at the Justice Department, which was then under the Trump administration.
But the earlier opinion, Johnsen wrote, "failed to give due weight to Congress's status as a co-equal branch of government with legitimate needs for information" to exercise its constitutional authorities.
The Justice Department said the Treasury Department "must furnish" the Trump tax materials to House lawmakers.
But it's far from clear that the information will become public. To be sure, the Justice Department highlighted the need to protect any taxpayer's privacy before disseminating the information to the full U.S. House of Representatives or in a public report.
Trump had argued that Democratic lawmakers wanted his tax returns as part of a politically motivated effort to embarrass him. The Republican former president could still launch an objection in federal court to any sharing of his tax information.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, cheered the Justice Department move.
The California Democrat called Trump's taxes an issue of "national security," adding, "The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president."
Added Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chair of the Ways and Means Committee: "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."
The effort by the House panel is separate from New York City prosecutors' years-long battle to get Trump's tax returns. The Manhattan district attorney received those materials earlier this year.
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