Former President Donald Trump and his legal team are not relenting on their fight to keep his tax returns away from Congress, asking a federal judge on Wednesday to stop the Treasury Department and the IRS from turning his financials over to the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.
In a 37-page filing in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Trump argued that congressional investigators had “no legitimate legislative purpose” for seeking his tax returns and are instead merely using their investigative authority in an effort to embarrass Trump and score political points. Congressional Democrats have contended that the returns would help the committee refine how the IRS audits presidential finances and emphasized that courts have consistently granted Congress wide discretion in determining what falls within the scope a “legislative purpose.”
“While House Democrats had offered countless justifications for obtaining the president’s tax returns, no one at the time had ever mentioned a desire to find out how the IRS audits presidents,” the filing stated.
Since Richard Nixon, presidents routinely turned over their tax returns, but Trump’s counsel depicted the subpoenas seeking to compel disclosure as a political vendetta.
“The requests are tailored to, and in practical operation will affect, only President Trump,” the ex-president’s lawyers wrote in their countersuit against House Democrats. “The requests single out President Trump because he is a Republican and a political opponent. They were made to retaliate against President Trump because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.”
Trump’s legal team also argued that the request for Trump’s tax returns “exceed statutory authority, violate the First Amendment, violate due process, and/or violate the separation of powers.”
The filing comes less than a week after the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a memo concluding that federal law requires Treasury turn over Trump’s financial documents to the committee.
“The statute at issue here is unambiguous: ‘Upon written request’ of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary ‘shall furnish’ the requested tax information to the Committee,” OLC acting assistant attorney general Dawn Johnsen wrote in a 39-page memorandum opinion.
Under the Trump administration, OLC in 2019 issued an advisory opinion stating that congressional committees could not use a federal statute to compel the executive branch to produce confidential financial information from the president because there was no legitimate legislative purpose.
“Under the facts and circumstances, the Secretary of the Treasury reasonably and correctly concluded that the Committee’s asserted interest in reviewing the Internal Revenue Service’s audits of presidential returns was pretextual and that its true aim was to make the President’s tax returns public, which is not a legitimate legislative purpose,” the Bill Barr-era opinion insisted.
But the Merrick Garland-era Justice Department derided the previous OLC opinion for failing to honor the separation of powers—particularly, the power of Congress under federal law.
“In our view, the 2019 Opinion failed to give due weight to Congress’s status as a co-equal branch of government with legitimate needs for information in order to exercise its constitutional authorities,” the more recent OLC opinion states. “Courts generally presume that Executive and Legislative Branch officials act in good faith and in furtherance of legitimate objectives. Even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information from the former president’s tax returns disclosed on the public record merely ‘for the sake of exposure,’ that would not invalidate the legitimate objectives that the committee’s receipt of the information in question could serve.”
Trump’s legal team alleged that the latest OLC opinion changed its position for political purposes rather than legal principles.
“Though the government once confirmed the requests’ impermissible purpose, it abruptly switched positions with no warning to Intervenors. The new OLC opinion does not deny the record of impermissible intent, but instead gives wobbly justifications and shallow reasoning for why the executive branch should ignore that evidence,” Wednesday’s filing stated. “The government’s complete reversal on the legality of Chairman [Richard] Neal’s requests came, of course, under President [Joe] Biden, a Democrat who ran against President Trump and made the disclosure of President Trump’s tax returns a campaign issue.”
The Committee’s counsel did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Read the full filing below.
[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
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