House Sues Treasury Department For Trump Tax Returns
“The public deserves to know if the president is a serial tax dodger.”
House Democrats sued the Treasury Department on Tuesday in an effort to obtain President Trump’s tax returns, the latest development in a months-long dispute over the president’s financial records.
“In refusing to comply with the statute, Defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS, and the tax laws on behalf of the American people,” the suit says.
Trump’s Tax Lawsuit
The suit was filed in federal court to enforce a previously rejected House subpoena that targeted the tax records in May, which the Trump administration denied for lacking a “legitimate legislative purpose.”
President Trump said he would release his tax returns in 2016 after finishing an IRS audit, but still refuses to make them public.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow quickly challenged the new congressional lawsuit, asserting, “we will respond to this latest effort at presidential harassment in court.”
The Justice Department opposes the subpoena, arguing that lawmakers must present a specific purpose for their requests that relates to their official duties. However, the Trump administration lost two court cases in May despite a similar line of argumentation, as judges ruled House Democrats did have a legitimate legislative purpose in seeking Trump’s financial records from Deutsche Bank, Capital One, and the accounting firm Mazars USA. The White House is appealing both rulings.
Committee Republican lawmakers argue the litigation is motivated by partisanship.
“The Democrats’ partisan, flawed lawsuit continues their unprecedented and illegitimate pursuit to expose President Trump’s private tax information,” argued Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). “This is a dangerous course of action.”
Chairman of the House and Ways Committee Richard Neal filed the suit with a citation of Section 6103 of the U.S. tax code, which states that the “Treasury ‘shall furnish’ the Committee with ‘any’ requested tax return information,” from any U.S. citizen, including public officials.
“He’s got such a strong case, he’s going to get those federal tax returns,” Martin J. Sheil, who has spent over 30 years as an investigator at the IRS, told Bloomberg. The tax expert said he believed House Democrats would have the upper hand in federal court, asserting, “The law is so clear.”
Other legal experts disagree, such as Kerry Kircher, who argues the 1924 law invoked by Neal does not clearly state what should happen to someone who ignores the law, weakening its legal mandate.
“There are lots of statues that create rights and then glom enforcement mechanisms onto them,” Kircher told Politico. “This one doesn’t, and so it will take some creative lawyering on the part of the House lawyers to explain why a ‘cause of action’ should be read into that statute that obligates the Treasury secretary or IRS commissioner to turn over those tax returns.”
President Trump’s Potential Conflicts of Interest
As OpenSecrets notes, President Trump currently holds business interests in over 30 countries. Instead of severing ties with his financial interests, the president chose to put his assets in a family managed trust, which potentially allows his family to profit from government decisions.
Critics argue that actors who seek to gain influence with the president are not only donating to his campaign, but holding galas and fundraisers at his resorts and luxury properties.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that a wealthy Iraqi sheikh who pushes for regime change in Iran bought 26 nights at the luxury Trump hotel in Washington DC. Lobbyists from Saudi Arabia also paid for 500 nights at the Trump hotel months after the 2016 election. Similarly, T-Mobile spent $195,000 at the hotel while lobbying for a merger with Sprint.
Critics also contend that Trump’s recently uncovered tax records from 1985 to 1994, while limited, provide further justification for inquiry into his more recent returns. During the given period, the president lost $1.17 billion dollars and paid no federal tax income for 8 to 10 years, according to a New York Times report in May.
David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who has covered Trump since the 1980s, told DemocracyNow! that a mysterious entry of $53 million in interest over one year in the uncovered tax records could involve Trump’s connections to international cocaine dealer Joseph Wexelbaum.
“Wouldn’t you think someone who personally lost over a BILLION dollars (“more than nearly any other taxpayer in America”) be vulnerable to shady activity to get out of that hole?” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in May, arguing, “If they became the most powerful public servant in America, wouldn’t you want to see their taxes?”
Americans for Tax Fairness, a campaign that includes more than 425 national, state, and local organizations, claims that citizens deserve transparency on private financial interests that could compromise the public interest.
“The public deserves to know if the president is a serial tax dodger (as we suspect), has compromising financial relationships with public officials or business people in Russia or other foreign countries, or has any other conflicts of interest that could adversely affect the exercise of his official duties, such as legislation he wants Congress to enact into law,” said Americans for Tax Fairness in a statement.