Lawyers for Donald Trump urged a federal judge Wednesday to block the Treasury Department and the IRS from handing his tax returns over to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The committee’s stated reason for seeking the returns, to examine how the IRS audits presidents, is simply a pretext for wanting to look for something embarrassing, the lawyers said in a filing in federal court in Washington, adding that the legal authority invoked by Congress has never been used against a president, a former president or any elected official.
“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,” they said
The committee chairman’s request for Trump’s tax returns “bore little resemblance to an effort to investigate how the IRS audits presidents. It asked for the information of only one president, asked for open files for which audits have not been completed, and never asked the IRS for the most relevant information — namely, how it audits presidents,” they said.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said last week that a federal law compels the government to hand over the returns. The Committee on Ways and Means, controlled by Democrats, first sought them in 2019 and renewed the request this year, seeking Trump’s own returns and those of some of his companies.
Trump’s lawyers said Congress has no general power to investigate individual citizens and cannot demand personal, confidential information the way a law enforcement organization can.
The committee cited a federal law that requires Treasury and the IRS to turn over individual tax returns when demanded by any of the three congressional tax committees. The Trump administration refused to provide the documents, arguing that Congress had no legitimate law-making purpose for seeking them and was simply hoping to find something that would embarrass the president.
In a 2019 opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel agreed and said the congressional demand was invalid. But it reversed course last week and said that the earlier conclusion failed to give a coordinate branch of government the “respect and deference” it was due.
The Trump legal team’s court filing Wednesday asked a federal judge not only to block Treasury from handing over the tax returns, but also to order the Ways and Means Committee “to end all ongoing examinations” of Trump and his companies.