WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for a House committee to obtain former President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns, refusing his request to block their release after a yearslong fight.
The court’s brief order, which was unsigned and did not note any dissents, was another decisive defeat for Mr. Trump delivered by a court that had moved to the right with his appointment of three justices. The decision means the Treasury Department is likely to soon turn over six years of his tax returns to the House, which has been seeking his financial records since 2019.
Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, who requested the files as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement that his panel would “now conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.”
But Mr. Neal did not say whether the committee would publish the returns. An aide on the Ways and Means Committee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said no decision would be made until lawmakers received the files.
Lawyers for Mr. Trump, who announced last week that he would run for president again, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump has used the slow pace of litigation to run out the clock on various oversight and investigative efforts. His stonewalling and legal challenges have succeeded in keeping the House from obtaining his tax returns for nearly four years, but that strategy appears to have fallen just short. The House would almost certainly have dropped the request for Mr. Trump’s tax returns in January, when Republicans take control of the chamber.
His lawyers had urged the justices to extend a lower court’s stay that had blocked the Treasury Department from providing the files, giving them more time to pursue an appeal before the Supreme Court. Douglas N. Letter, the chief lawyer for the House, had urged the Supreme Court not to intervene, pointing to the coming of a new Congress. Any further delay “would leave the committee and Congress as a whole little or no time to complete their legislative work,” he wrote in a brief this month.
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Mr. Trump ensured a conservative supermajority on the court for years to come — and it has repeatedly ruled against him in challenges he has brought before it.
In recent years, the court has denied his efforts to challenge aspects of the 2020 election; to prevent prosecutors in New York from obtaining some of his financial records; and to have a so-called special master review about 100 sensitive government files seized from his residence in August.
The Supreme Court’s decision landed as an appeals court in Atlanta heard a broader challenge by the Justice Department to the special master review. All three judges, including two of Mr. Trump’s appointees, appeared inclined to rule against him.
The fight over whether the House can obtain Mr. Trump’s tax returns traces back to his refusal in 2016 to make them public, breaking with modern precedent set by presidential candidates and sitting presidents.
In 2019, after Democrats took over the House, they began oversight efforts, including of Mr. Trump’s financial dealings. They secured testimony from Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, that Mr. Trump had boasted about inflating the value of assets when it served him, like when applying for loans, and undervaluing them when it helped lower his taxes.
State authorities have also pursued such allegations. The Trump Organization is on trial in New York, where the district attorney has accused it of tax fraud and other crimes. The New York state attorney general has sued Mr. Trump and three of his children, accusing them of lying to lenders and insurers by fraudulently overvaluing his assets.
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The New York Times has also investigated Mr. Trump’s taxes, including obtaining tax-return data in 2020 that covered more than two decades. He paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined and reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that, as of 2020, was the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
John Koskinen, a former I.R.S. commissioner during the Obama and Trump administrations, said on Tuesday that Mr. Neal would have to decide what to do with the returns, including whether to release a summary or the complete set of documents. But he suggested that given what was already known about Mr. Trump’s finances, their public release may offer few surprises.
“It’s not clear to me what you’re going to learn that you don’t already know when you look at these returns,” Mr. Koskinen said in an interview.
Early in 2019, Mr. Neal had asked the Treasury Department to provide Mr. Trump’s tax returns under a law that gives the Ways and Means Committee the authority to see any taxpayer’s documents. But the Trump administration refused to let the department turn over the records.
While Mr. Neal has said the committee was studying whether changes were needed to an I.R.S. program that audits presidents, Trump supporters maintain that is a pretext for a politically motivated fishing expedition and that Congress lacks a legitimate legislative purpose in seeking the records.
The case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge, Trevor N. McFadden, who would ultimately rule that the law was on the House’s side, but nevertheless stalled on making any ruling.
The case was still pending before him in 2021, when the Biden administration entered office and the current Congress was seated. Mr. Neal renewed his request and the Justice Department issued a memorandum saying the law on its face gave the committee a legal right to the returns.
Last December, about two and a half years after the House filed the lawsuit, Judge McFadden finally moved on the case, ruling that the committee indeed had a legal right to the records under “a long line of Supreme Court cases” that require courts to defer to valid congressional inquiries.
But Judge McFadden also declared that he believed it would be unwise for the committee to use its authority to publish Mr. Trump’s tax returns in the Congressional Record, as it is permitted to to do under the same law that empowered Mr. Neal to request them. The case put the country in “uncharted territory,” he warned.
“Anyone can see that publishing confidential tax information of a political rival is the type of move that will return to plague the inventor,” the judge wrote. But he added, “It might not be right or wise to publish the returns, but it is the chairman’s right to do so.”
Still, Judge McFadden blocked the Treasury Department from turning the records over until the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reviewed his decision. In August, a three-judge appeals court panel upheld Judge McFadden’s decision.
Mr. Trump then asked the full appeals court to reconsider the matter. After it rejected that request last month, Mr. Trump asked that the Supreme Court intervene, only for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to temporarily extend the block.
Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr., a New Jersey Democrat who has been involved in the request for Mr. Trump’s tax returns, praised the decision, saying a legal charade that had wasted taxpayer money was over.
“It has been 1,329 days since our committee sought Donald Trump’s tax returns — almost as long as the American Civil War,” he said in a statement. “And for 1,329 days, our request made under law has been delayed, obfuscated and blocked by Donald Trump and his adjutants in the government and the courts.”
Alan Rappeport contributed reporting.
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