House Democrats sue to get hold of Trump tax returns

US president resisting Democrat scrutiny of his administration and personal dealings

US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin: rejected the Ways and Means Committee request and a subsequent congressional subpoena.  Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin: rejected the Ways and Means Committee request and a subsequent congressional subpoena. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

 

Democratic lawmakers have sued the Trump administration in an effort to get their hands on Donald Trump’s tax returns, which the US president has refused to disclose.

Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the committee asked a federal court to order the disclosure of six years of tax records, under a law that requires the Internal Revenue Service, a treasury unit, to hand over tax returns to his committee on request.

Ways and Means first asked the Trump administration directly for the information in April, but Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary, rejected the request and a subsequent congressional subpoena. The department of justice issued an opinion in support of Mr Mnuchin’s decision last month, arguing that Mr Neal’s request did not serve a valid purpose.

[Washington Correspondent Suzanne Lynch talked to Foreign Editor Chris Dooley about the race to take on Donald Trump in 2020. To listen, click here]

Mr Neal announced the lawsuit on Tuesday in a short, matter-of-fact statement that noted the treasury’s department failure to comply with his requests. “Due to that non-compliance, the committee is now pursuing this matter in the federal courts,” he said.

Congressional oversight

The president has vowed to fight the Democrats as they attempt to investigate his administration and his personal business dealings. He has sued banks including Deutsche Bank to prevent them from complying with a congressional subpoena for his financial records and blocked current and former aides from testifying to Congress.

The tussle concerns questions beyond Mr Trump’s tax returns and will help define the boundaries of congressional oversight as the administration mounts a broad effort to resist Democrat-led investigations.

Mr Neal had argued Mr Trump’s personal and business tax returns were needed to conduct oversight of how the IRS was auditing the taxes of sitting presidents.

The Democrat from Massachusetts had come under pressure from his party’s base to take action to obtain Mr Trump’s returns after Democrats retook control of the House last November. The party has long sought information about Mr Trump’s taxes after he broke with decades of presidential convention by refusing to release his returns.

Stated reasons

The treasury department did not immediately return a request for comment on the Ways and Means lawsuit.

The filing in federal district court in Washington argued that neither Mr Trump’s administration nor the courts had the right to question his stated reasons for requesting the tax returns. “It is not for the executive or the judiciary to examine the committee’s motivations for its oversight inquiries,” the filing said.

In June, the justice department’s Office of Legal Counsel argued that Mr Neal had not requested the returns for oversight reasons, as he stated, and said “the true aim was to make the president’s tax returns public”.

“In the absence of a legitimate legislative purpose, the disclosure of the president’s tax returns to the chairman was barred by [statute] and the constitution,” the office wrote at the time. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019