The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Congress gets to see Trump’s tax returns. It shouldn’t have taken so long.

Former president Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 18. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
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After a Tuesday Supreme Court ruling, the House Ways and Means Committee will, at long last, get former president Donald Trump’s tax returns, nearly 1,400 days since the panel started asking for them.

It was a proper reading of a law, passed in 1924, that requires the Treasury Department to turn over any tax records that are requested by certain congressional committees for legitimate legislative purposes. (The IRS also handed then-President Richard M. Nixon’s tax records to the Joint Committee on Taxation amid the Watergate scandal in 1973, although an important difference was that Nixon himself had asked the committee to review them, famously asserting: “I am not a crook.”)

Alas, the court’s decision does not assure that Mr. Trump’s tax records will ever become public or that future presidents — or presidential candidates — will not follow his lead in refusing to voluntarily disclose their own.

Restoring the norm under which presidential contenders voluntarily disclose their tax returns — followed by nearly every major-party nominee since Nixon — is important. Voters should expect to know what financial conflicts of interest they might bring to the job. And in Mr. Trump’s case, those records were especially relevant, given that he headed a sprawling and secretive privately held business. In addition to his tax records, he should have provided a detailed accounting of his holdings and interests. His refusal to do so became glaring as Mr. Trump pressed to reform the tax code in 2017. Americans could only guess how its provisions might personally enrich the president and his family.

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If presidential candidates do not voluntarily share their returns, Congress might try to impose new rules. So could state lawmakers. In response to the Trump tax return saga, for example, New York legislators passed a law in 2019 allowing state officials to give congressional investigators the tax information they have on file. State lawmakers could also write laws that mandate the automatic release of candidates’ state tax returns after they claim major-party presidential nominations.

But it should not come to that. It would be healthier for the country to see candidates once again perform essential acts of honesty and transparency — not because they have to but because voters deserve it.

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Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).