Democrats Ask Judge to Move on Suit Seeking Trump’s Tax Returns

February 19, 2020 Updated: February 19, 2020
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Using arguments deployed by President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial legal team, Democratic lawmakers are asking a federal judge to move forward with the House Ways and Means Committee’s lawsuit that seeks Trump’s tax returns—the same lawsuit that the judge paused a month ago.

The Trump administration responded in court documents, saying that arguments raised at the impeachment trial that ended in the president’s acquittal Feb. 5 aren’t germane to the lawsuit and that accelerating the processing of the case wasn’t legally justified.

For years the president’s opponents have been trying without success to get their hands on his personal income tax returns. There are plenty of allegations swirling around but any evidence of legal wrongdoing that may or may not exist has not surfaced publicly. Federal law prevents the Internal Revenue Service from making such returns public, though Democrats on the committee argue the law requires the tax-collection agency to let the committee see the documents.

Trump has refused to give up the documents, saying his adversaries want the documents so they can go on the legal equivalent of a fishing expedition. “Until such time as I’m not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that,” he said in April 2019 in a discussion about releasing the returns.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has said little publicly about the lawsuit. The Epoch Times sought a comment on the lawsuit from his committee office and his congressional office but had not received any responses as of press time.

Last year, Neal was pressed about whether he would be willing to release his own personal tax returns, The Washington Times reported at the time.

“Oh, sure — down the road, sure, that’s nothing,” Neal said. “I’ve done that in the past, by the way,” he said without elaborating. Roll Call newspaper investigated the matter in 2017 and did not find records showing Neal previously released his returns.

The same year, New England Public Radio asked Neal for the documents on five occasions but failed to receive the returns from him. “I think we should all jump together,” Neal said at the time, adding it might happen in the future. “I think that’s the best way to approach it.”

Washington-based U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden ordered the legal proceeding stayed Jan. 14 while awaiting the resolution of a dispute over whether former White House counsel Don McGahn can be subpoenaed. The administration argues communications between McGahn and Trump are protected by executive privilege.

“Court stayed this proceeding more than four weeks ago on the expectation that the D.C. Circuit would imminently issue a ruling in Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn,” House counsel stated in legal pleadings dated Feb. 15 aimed at lifting the stay.

“That expectation has proven inaccurate. Further delay of this proceeding—including further delay of briefing of the merits—is unwarranted.”

House general counsel Douglas Letter argues the president’s lawyers have performed a legal flip-flop, arguing during the impeachment trial that House impeachment managers had to go to the courts to enforce subpoenas, but now Trump’s lawyers are arguing the opposite position by saying the longstanding constitutional doctrine of separation of powers means the executive does not have to comply with subpoenas.

“[C]ounsel for President Trump in the Senate impeachment trial disavowed the position of Defendants (who include the President) in this case that the House is constitutionally barred from obtaining judicial enforcement of its subpoenas,” the committee states in court documents.

In the lawsuit, the Trump administration says what was argued at the impeachment trial has no bearing on this case and denied its lawyers were disavowing the position taken at the trial.

“[S]tatements made by counsel for the President in the course of the now concluded Senate impeachment proceeding have nothing to do with whether this Court should exercise its discretion to lift the stay order that it entered a mere two weeks before the Committee precipitously filed this motion,” Trump’s lawyers said in a Feb. 11 reply in opposition to the motion.

The lawyers also said this was “the third time in six months” that the committee had asked “this Court to proceed immediately to briefing on the merits of this case without determining whether it has jurisdiction.”

There are no compelling reasons to override the stay, and the Democrat-run committee is only playing politics, the lawyers said in the document.

“The Committee’s only stated concern is that whatever political support may presently exist for its oversight and legislative agenda might wane if the Court permits this litigation process to unfold in due course.”