A federal judge was urged late Tuesday by attorneys for former President Donald Trump to prevent Trump’s tax returns from being handed over to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats have long considered Trump’s taxes to be their “white whale,” Trump’s lawyers said.
A federal judge told the committee chairman that the reason given by Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the committee, for ordering the returns is a pretext for wanting to look for embarrassing information.
During the Trump administration, the committee filed suit against the Treasury Department for refusing to provide the returns.
A change of position from the Biden administration led the committee to seek dismissal of the lawsuit. In response, Trump and his businesses took steps to prevent the release.
“No one believes that Chairman Neal requested President Trump’s tax returns so he can study legislation about IRS audits. No one. Chairman Neal admits that this justification was a mere litigation strategy. His fellow Committee-Members don’t buy it either,” said the former president’s lawyers.
“Anyone who’s paid even minimal attention to American politics understands what’s happening here: President Trump did not voluntarily disclose his tax returns during the campaign, his political opponents assume the information would damage him, and so his opponents want to force the disclosure.”
Audits of presidents’ tax returns have long been a requirement policy of the IRS to relieve its employees of having to decide when such an examination was appropriate in order to take away the burden of deciding when such examinations are proper.
The House Ways and Means Committee said by asking for Trump’s returns it was “concerned about whether the IRS had the resources and safeguards to audit the returns of Mr. Trump and similar future presidents effectively.”
The committee indicated it was also interested in seeing how the audits were conducted independently, free from improper interference. It invoked federal law that mandated both the IRS and Treasury Department to provide tax returns of individuals upon request by any of the three congressional tax code writing committees.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyers claimed that the federal law is not constitutional, since Congress doesn’t have that kind of open-ended authority to obtain information from the executive branch. Additionally, they stated that Trump is entitled to the same lawful protection that he received while in office.
“The committee’s request is effectively a request to a sitting president: it was issued while President Trump was in office, was continuously pursued, and has always been tied to his status as president.”
According to House attorneys, the committee’s demand for these returns is genuine, but as a matter of law, the federal courts lack the authority to examine Congress’ motives in determining whether its actions are constitutional.
The committee denied Trump’s claim of privilege, saying that it applies only to records provided, in response to a subpoena, by a sitting president. In contrast, this request is authorized by federal law, and the requirements set forth by it do not apply to records of a former president.
The returns were first asked by the House Ways and Means Committee in 2019. Treasury Department officials rejected the request, and the Justice Department’s Legal Counsel office agreed as well, stating it was indeed not appropriate.
However, under the Biden administration, the Treasury Department and the IRS said the returns should be turned over, and the Justice Department challenged that earlier conclusion as failing to provide a coordinated branch of government the “respect and deference” it deserved.
A hearing is set for Nov. 16 in District of Columbia District Court by Judge Trevor McFadden.