A 1924 law gives Congress the power to scrutinize the federal income tax returns of any taxpayer. Democrats in Congress have proposed numerous motions to examine Donald Trump’s returns, given his numerous conflicts of interest. The Republican majority has quashed every attempt. If Democrats win control of either chamber of Congress, they will get a chance to examine the president’s income tax returns.
Not so fast, says Newt Gingrich. In an interview with Karen Tumulty, the former House Speaker and energetic Trump defender insists Trump has nothing to fear from congressional oversight in general. Asked about the tax returns, Gingrich casually batted down the possibility: “Then they’ll be trapped into appealing to the Supreme Court. And we’ll see whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.”
It is worth noting that the law enabling Congress to scrutinize Trump’s tax returns is totally clear. It enables Congress to look at the returns of any taxpayer. It has been previously used without challenge to look at conflicts of interest for a Treasury secretary (Andrew Mellon) and a president (Richard Nixon.) I have read several stories referencing this law, and none of them has found a law professor, or anybody at all, who has challenged either its general Constitutionality or its specific application to Trump. The conservative legal movement has not developed any theory that would lay the groundwork to support Trump if he fights this.
If the Court did block Trump’s tax returns, it would not reflect “originalism” or any right-wing ideological theory of law, but would instead be a pure exercise in judicial partisanship. Of course, that has happened before when the stakes were high, in Bush v. Gore. It seems unlikely that all five Republican-appointed justices would perceive the stakes in this issue as being so high that they would risk their esteem in the legal community to invent out of thin air a defense of Trump. Only a massive cynic would expect them to act in such a grossly and nakedly partisan way.
What’s telling is that this is exactly what Gingrich thinks the justices would do.