Trump’s lawyers say Dems can’t sue for tax returns

Donald Trump’s lawyers say Democrats pursuing the president’s tax returns should use the political process rather than the courts.

Attorneys representing the administration and Trump in his personal capacity argued in a filing Monday that Democrats on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee don’t have the right to sue the executive branch to enforce a subpoena for his tax returns. The filing follows a motion from earlier this month asking U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden to dismiss the case.

“While the committee attempts to muddy the historical record, this much is clear,” lawyers for Trump said in the filing. “Congressional suits to enforce subpoenas were unheard of throughout most of American history, and when in 1978 Congress for the first time enacted a statute conferring jurisdiction for certain subpoena enforcement actions brought by the Senate and its committees, it did not enact a comparable provision for the House or its committees.”

The Ways and Means Committee sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in July after Mnuchin rejected Chairman Richard Neal’s request for the records. Mnuchin called the request a pretext for a political attack. Neal, of Massachusetts, had said his panel needed the records to see whether the IRS was following its practice of auditing the president annually.

Several constitutional-law scholars filed a brief earlier this month supporting the House’s ability to sue the administration to enforce a subpoena, saying that without that ability the executive branch could defy valid congressional requests with no consequence.

“In that world, the House would suffer a grievous blow to its power of inquiry, which is essential to its legislative and oversight functions, and our system of checks and balances would become dangerously unbalanced,” the brief said.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C.
President Trump speaks to the media before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C.

Trump broke with four decades of presidential tradition in refusing to release his tax information during the 2016 election. Neal has said he received a complaint from a federal employee alleging there may have been efforts to influence the mandatory, annual audit of presidents and vice-presidents. Neal has said he is talking with House lawyers about whether to release that whistle-blower complaint.

Trump and House Democrats are fighting a multi-front legal war over his tax, banking and business records. Trump has filed a pair of lawsuits seeking to squelch other House subpoenas seeking his records.

After losing initial challenges at the trial-court level, the president’s personal attorneys have argued for reversal of those decisions at federal appeals courts in Washington and New York. The cases could last for months or years, possibly stretching past the 2020 presidential election.

The case is Committee on Ways and Means v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

-- Laura Davison, Bloomberg News