Republicans on Friday accused the Biden Justice Department of partisanship in ruling that the Treasury Department must turn over former President Trump’s tax returns to Congress, while the Biden official who authored the ruling has gone out of her way previously to taunt Mr. Trump publicly.
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Justice Department’s ruling was “politically motivated.”
“If politicians in Congress can demand, and ultimately make public, the president’s private tax returns, what stops them from doing the same to others they view as a political enemy?” Mr. Brady said.
He said the decision “sets a dangerous precedent that weaponizes the tax code by giving Congress the dangerous power to rummage through anyone’s private tax returns for purely political reasons.”
The 39-page Justice Department memo was authored by Dawn Johnsen, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. She also served as head of the OLC during the Clinton administration, and was nominated again for the job by then-President Obama, twice, but was never confirmed by the Senate.
In 2017, Ms. Johnsen authored an article in Slate arguing that newly elected President Trump should appoint Merrick Garland, who was President Obama’s failed nominee in 2016, to a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The vacancy was created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Senate Republicans had refused to consider Mr. Garland’s nomination in the final year of Mr. Obama’s presidency, much to Ms. Johnsen’s chagrin.
“The U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm anyone President Trump nominates to the Supreme Court — until Trump renominates and the Senate confirms Judge Merrick Garland,” she wrote in Slate.
Mr. Garland is now attorney general, where he serves as Ms. Johnsen’s boss.
Ms. Johnsen also implicitly rejected Mr. Trump’s mandate as president, citing his loss in the popular vote in 2016. She wrote in Slate, “about 3 million more Americans decided they preferred Obama have a Democratic successor rather than Trump make this [Supreme Court] appointment.”
If Mr. Trump saw the article, he didn’t follow her advice. He appointed conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who was confirmed for the seat.
During the Obama administration, Republicans noted that Ms. Johnsen had been harshly critical of the OLC under Republican President George W. Bush. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said she did not have the “requisite seriousness” for the OLC post under Mr. Obama.
It’s unlikely that congressional Democrats will get their hands on Mr. Trump’s tax returns anytime soon, despite the Justice ruling Friday.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers said in January that they would almost certainly go to court to block any handover of his tax returns. The ruling from the Justice Department gives Mr. Trump 72 hours to respond.
The former president’s team is very likely to make the case that partisan motivation is behind the move to obtain his tax records. The Justice Department’s Friday ruling reverses a 2019 opinion that the Treasury Department shouldn’t release the tax returns.
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