EPIC is only one of many organizations hoping to catch a glimpse of President Trump’s tax returns. But no matter the public interest, even the President’s return information is protected.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the oversight of government activities. Citing "Congressional investigation and widespread public interest,” the “longstanding tradition of U.S. Presidents" releasing their return information, and Trump’s widely speculated “financial dealings” with Russia, EPIC filed a FOIA request calling for the IRS to disclose Trump’s return information as far back as 2010. But Treasury regulations require a requesting party to attach the taxpayer’s consent to their FOIA request in these matters (not surprisingly something EPIC was unable to obtain), so the IRS closed the request.
Undeterred, EPIC appealed the IRS’s response, and submitted a second request again asking for Trump’s return information. This time EPIC argued that it was entitled to the information in order to correct several "misstatements of fact" it asserts the President made to the public. The alleged misstatements: Trump’s tweets insisting that he has "ZERO investments in Russia," and stating "Russia never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!" EPIC believes these statements to be untrue, and pointed to I.R.C. §6103(k)(3) which allows disclosure of taxpayer return information to correct public misstatements of facts as long as Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation gives permission. Of course, the Joint Committee has given no such permission -- making it fairly clear why the IRS didn’t consider the appeal and closed EPIC’s second FOIA request. The IRS also warned EPIC that it wouldn’t process any additional requests regarding the matter.
EPIC didn’t file any more requests, but it did file suit against the IRS asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the IRS to release Trump’s return information. It acknowledged that the Joint Committee never granted the necessary permission, but argued that the IRS should have asked for it.
Hitting on what seems obvious, the court agreed with the IRS that without Trump’s consent to release his return information, EPIC’s FOIA request was incomplete and thus, properly closed. The court also rejected EPIC’s §6103(k)(3) argument stating that "[t]he plain terms of that section, which require congressional approval, foreclose any relief from the exhaustion barrier." And the Joint Committee has never exercised its right to grant approval before. The court additionally could not find support for EPIC’s claim that the IRS was required to seek Committee approval “so as to open wider its FOIA doors or to produce records that require such independent approval.”
EPIC’s case was promptly dismissed.
There are other similar lawsuits out there – doubtful those parties will have better luck.
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