The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

Since Trump is essentially the head of the Federal Government, would he fall under this statute?

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    Law.SE might be a better bet.
    – user9389
    Mar 30, 2017 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


No, FOIA can not be used to force Trump to disclose his personal tax information

As you mentioned, FOIA requests are to access information about the Federal government. Personal tax returns are just that - personal. If you look at the link you provided they even explicitly mention several exceptions which tax returns fall under (emphasis mine):


The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

  1. classified information for national defense or foreign policy
  2. internal personnel rules and practices
  3. information that is exempt under other laws
  4. trade secrets and confidential business information
  5. inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges
  6. personnel and medical files
  7. law enforcement records or information
  8. information concerning bank supervision
  9. geological and geophysical information

Tax returns are protected under law.

And if you think about it, this is a good thing. If someone could use FOIA to request Trump's personal tax returns then I can use FOIA to request your tax returns. Being the president doesn't change the your protections as an individual under the law.

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    Not sure if the second bolded instance would be an actual exemption. "Personnel" <> "personal" Mar 30, 2017 at 16:24
  • I interpret it as Trump is Government personnel (not personal) and as such gets protection under this clause.... but I'm not a lawyer so I could be totally wrong. Mar 30, 2017 at 17:50
  • I frequently request state-level personnel data. Personnel data is information the employer keeps on the employee. Tax returns are not personnel data because they are not prepared by the employer for the employee. Your point is already pretty solid because tax returns are already protected by law. Mar 30, 2017 at 18:18
  • His tax returns from before or even while he was working would not be "personnel records." Personnel records are records held by an employer about an employee, which are protected under privacy laws in the general public, just like one's medical records. That's why they are lumped together like that. Like I said, just a quibble with that specific example. I agree they are protected under the first bolded example. Mar 30, 2017 at 18:29

No. The tax returns are not related to work, policy or actions taken by the President, as President, or during his administration. It's not government-produced information or work product. Now, his NEXT tax return? That might be a different matter, but that probably falls outside of what is governed by the FOIA. If there was an investigation where that was reviewed as evidence of or refutation of allegations that he was enriching himself, or some other review, it (tax years while President) might become part of government information the public has a right to as part of information and evidence collected as part of a formal government investigation, but, barring that, it's his personal information, and probably does not fall under FOIA.

I'll try to add more links on the specifics of the law and what is covered, later, when I'm not at work. Keep in mind, my personal slant on FOIA is that almost nothing government-related should be exempt (most "national security" exemptions are really "I think the nation would be less secure if people knew we were violating laws"), but I don't see how, even with the broadest interpretation, this could be objectively gathered under that "umbrella."

  • But what if it's argued that existing/prior returns are related to work and policy because it may reveal Russian connections, or other conflicts of interest that may guide his judgment and decision making. On a simple (non-legalese) level, "X paid me 10 million and wants Y to happen" sounds like strong motivation for "I will make Y happen now that I have the power to." That was pretty much the entire supposition of the "Crooked Hillary" hoopla. I can imagine a lawsuit argued in such a fashion, and wonder how quickly it would be shot down (and how) in court. Perhaps one already has? Mar 30, 2017 at 16:17
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    @zibadawatimmy - then that's relevant to an investigation and law enforcement or investigative agencies can request or demand that information. That's not the same as Freedom Of Information Act materials and the public right to access them. Under that very broad criteria, NOTHING, ever, in anyone's life would be private, because we are all the product of life events that came before that shape us into who we are now. If you want to run for mayor, does that mean I get to look at all your web browser history, ever, to look to see if you watched porn? Mar 30, 2017 at 16:22
  • @PoloHoleSet, Those slippery slope arguments about the dangers of broad criteria to citizens' privacy rights in general seem well taken, but clearly those premises cannot unreservedly be held when applied to public figures, or those in military command.
    – agc
    Mar 31, 2017 at 15:54
  • @agc - I'm not commenting that those in office or command don't deserve a higher level of scrutiny or standards of evidence of proper behavior. I'm arguing that playing a version of "five degrees to Kevin Bacon" where you have very indirect, oblique factors that COULD, POSSIBLY be of influence is the slippery slope where, by that definition, really nothing could be excluded. And, again, FOIA is for informing citizens on specific government actions and factors that directly influence them. There are other avenues for those other concerns. Mar 31, 2017 at 16:16

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