Trump lawyer urges court to block House from obtaining tax returns

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) – Lawyers for former President Donald Trump took to a U.S. appeals court on Thursday his years-long battle to keep his tax returns out of public view, where a congressional committee argued that he had the right to force their release. .

The House Ways and Means Committee responsible for drafting taxes asserted to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that it had the authority to obtain tax returns from the former Chairman with the Internal Revenue Service, which is part of the Treasury Department.

Senior Judge David Sentelle, a conservative jurist, expressed skepticism of Trump’s arguments during the hearing.

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Trump’s attorney, Cameron Norris, argued there was no legitimate reason for the Ways and Means Committee to see the tax returns. Sentelle said he disagreed with that assertion, saying it’s possible the committee had both legitimate legislative reasons for wanting the tax returns and illegitimate political motivations.

“You’re arguing can’t carry the ball for you because there can be a legislative actor who has two purposes,” Sentelle said. “You claim they have one. And I ask you: why can’t they have two?

A decision by the committee could lead to the disclosure of Trump’s financial dealings ahead of the 2024 presidential election. It could be months before the intermediate appeals court issues a ruling, which would likely be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson asked on Thursday whether the case should be sent to a lower court so that a different legal framework can be applied – a decision that would further delay the resolution of the case.

Trump is appealing a December 2021 lower court ruling that determined the chairman of the Democratic-led committee had broad authority to obtain a former president’s tax returns.

Trump was the first president in 40 years not to release his tax returns because he aimed to keep details of his wealth and the activities of his family business, the Trump Organization, secret.

A federal law empowers the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to request any person’s tax returns from the IRS.

Citing that law, the committee filed a lawsuit in 2019 to force the disclosure of Trump’s tax returns.

House Democrats have said they need Trump’s tax returns to see if the IRS is properly auditing presidential filings and to assess whether new legislation is needed.

Trump’s lawyers called the explanation a “pretense” and a “fake,” saying the real goal is to uncover politically damaging information about Trump.

Norris said the Ways and Means Committee had not promised to keep Trump’s tax returns private if he obtained them.

“Instead, we have plausibly argued that the goal here is to immediately and publicly expose and release President Trump’s tax returns,” Norris said during the hearing.

In 2019, while Trump was in office, the US Department of Justice issued a legal memo supporting his arguments.

But in July 2021, after Trump lost his re-election campaign, the Justice Department backtracked and said the House committee had offered “sufficient reasons” to see the tax returns.

The Justice Department memo prompted Trump to file counterclaims against the Ways and Means Committee, seeking a judicial declaration that the committee exceeded its constitutional authority.

Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden sided with Congress in December. McFadden said Trump was “wrong on the law” in seeking to block the Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his tax returns.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year cleared the way for a Manhattan prosecutor to obtain Trump’s tax returns from his accounting firm, but that decision did not directly affect the committee’s case. ways and means.

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Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Jon J. Epps