WASHINGTON • Former president Donald Trump suffered twin setbacks on Friday when the United States Justice Department cleared the way to release his tax records and disclosed a memo showing he had urged top officials last year to falsely claim his election defeat was "corrupt".
The department, reversing course from the stance it took when Mr Trump was in office, told the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide the Republican businessman-turned-politician's tax records to congressional investigators - a move he has long fought.
Mr Trump was the first president in 40 years to not release his tax returns, as well as other documents, as he aimed to keep secret the details on his wealth and activities of his family company, the Trump Organisation.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee has said it wants the tax data in part to examine whether Mr Trump had taken inappropriate advantage of US tax laws.
Handwritten notes by then Acting Deputy Attorney-General Richard Donoghue in December and released on Friday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee painted a damning picture of Mr Trump as he desperately tried to get the Justice Department to take the unprecedented step of intervening to try to upend his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.
The fact that the Justice Department let congressional investigators obtain the notes marked a dramatic shift from the Trump administration's repeated assertion of executive privilege to skirt congressional scrutiny.
"Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen," Mr Trump said, referring to Republicans, on a phone call with Mr Jeffrey Rosen, according to Mr Donoghue's notes. The Dec 27 phone call came days before Mr Rosen was appointed acting attorney-general.
The notes showed Mr Rosen told Mr Trump the department could not and would not "change the outcome of the election". Mr Trump's representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department ordered the IRS to provide Mr Trump's tax returns to the House panel, saying the panel has invoked "sufficient reasons" for requesting it.
The department's Office of Legal Counsel concluded it had erred in 2019 when it found the committee's request for Mr Trump's taxes to be based on a "disingenuous" objective aimed at exposing them to the public. The committee engaged in a two-year legal battle with the Treasury Department after then Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defied a subpoena for the taxes.
In a court filing late on Friday, the Treasury Department said it was prepared to hand over Mr Trump's tax returns to the committee and would not object to giving him 72 hours' notice before the documents are handed over.
After another legal fight, the Manhattan district attorney's office in February separately obtained Mr Trump's tax and financial records in a criminal investigation centring on his company, though the material was not publicly disclosed.
During Mr Trump's presidency, the Justice Department was accused by Democrats of bending to his personal and political goals. Its recent actions illustrate a different approach under Mr Biden.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, welcomed the department's action, saying access to the documents represents "a matter of national security".
University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who was ethics counsel to former president George W. Bush, said the department "is no longer going to simply kowtow to Donald Trump". He added: "Every other president has disclosed their tax returns, and finding out what the conflicts of interest are on the president or a former president who may have made decisions that now have to be revisited - that's critically important."
It has been a tough week for Mr Trump. Four police officers on Tuesday testified before a House panel about the violence carried out by his supporters during the Jan 6 Capitol riot.
That same night, the Justice Department revealed it would not defend a Republican congressman named along with Mr Trump in a civil lawsuit accusing them of helping to incite the riot, while a US congressional candidate he endorsed in Texas lost her run-off election.
Mr Trump also fumed as a bipartisan agreement on Mr Biden's massive infrastructure Bill advanced in the Senate, a feat Mr Trump failed to achieve.