WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the home could gain access to former President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns, upholding a district judge’s decision last year.
In a 28-page ruling, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a federal law gives a speaker of the House of Representatives broad powers to seek them despite Mr Trump’s status as a former president.
The Treasury Department refused to release the records during his tenure. But after President Biden took office last year, the department found that a renewed motion by the House Ways and Means Committee, saying it was studying a program to test presidents, was valid.
The appeals court’s decision does not necessarily mean that Congress will receive the records. Mr. Trump’s legal team has vowed to fight Congress’ efforts “tooth and nail” and he is all but certain to appeal to the Supreme Court. If at least four judges on the court vote in favor of such an appeal, it would effectively shield Mr. Trump from a final judgment until next year. In the meantime, should Republicans retake the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, the Ways and Means Committee would be chaired by a Republican and most likely drop the motion.
The tax case is rooted in Mr. Trump’s decision – first as a presidential candidate in the 2016 election and then in office – to break with modern precedent by refusing to release his tax returns.
The Trump investigation
The Trump investigation
Numerous requests. Since Donald J. Trump left office, the former president has faced several different civil and criminal investigations across the country related to his business and political activities. Here’s a look at some notable cases:
When Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in 2018, they began trying to probe its finances using Congressional oversight powers. Former attorney for Mr Trump, Michael D. Cohen, testified that the President boasted about inflating the value of assets when it benefited him and undervalued them when it helped him lower his taxes.
But Mr Trump’s strategy was to use the slow pace of litigation to phase out Congressional scrutiny efforts. His administration’s Treasury Department refused to comply with the request, and the House of Representatives filed a lawsuit in early July 2019 to enforce it. But the judge she was assigned to — Trevor N. McFadden of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia whom Mr. Trump appointed in 2017 — was slow to make a decision.
The stalled case was revived after Mr Trump left office last year. Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, filed a new request for the former president’s 2015-2020 tax returns. The Biden administration issued a Justice Department memorandum that said the panel be eligible to receive it.
Mr Trump’s lawyers sought an injunction to block the request, saying it served no legitimate legislative purpose and contending that House Democrats’ real motivation was to disclose his financial information for political gain. House attorneys said there are legal grounds to request the tax refund, including investigating whether changes are needed to the IRS program that scrutinizes presidents.
In December, nearly two and a half years after the House of Representatives tabled the case, Judge McFadden issued a ruling on it. While the judge warned the committee that he did not think it wise to release Mr Trump’s tax returns, the judge ruled that the law authorizes the panel to have access to them.
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In Tuesday’s appeals court decision upholding that decision, Judge David B. Sentelle also wrote that the statute, which gives the chair of that panel sweeping powers to request anyone’s tax return, was prima facie constitutional. He said the motion to use this law for Mr Trump’s taxes does not violate the principles of the separation of powers because it imposes little burden on the executive branch.
Judge Sentelle also dismissed an argument by Mr Trump’s attorneys that the Treasury Department’s decision to grant the request violated the former president’s First Amendment rights.
In a statement, Mr Neal praised the decision.
“We have followed the court proceedings with great patience and our position has again been confirmed by the courts,” he said. “I am pleased that this long-awaited statement makes it clear that the law is on our side. When we receive the tax returns, we begin monitoring the IRS’s mandatory audit program.”
Judge Sentelle was appointed by Reagan in 1987. He was fully supported by Justice Robert L. Wilkins, an Obama-appointed staffer in 2014. The panel’s third judge, Karen L. Henderson, who was appointed by President George Bush in 1990, concurred with the finding and part of the majority reasoning.
However, she wrote separately to express greater caution about the potential separation of powers issues posed by “the potential and incentive for Congress to threaten an incumbent president with a post-presidency tax return request” in order to intimidate the president during his affect tenure. ”
Judge Henderson wrote: “While I agree with my colleagues that the burdens imposed on the Presidency by the committee’s motion do not reach the proportions of a violation of the separation of powers, I conclude that the burdens borne by the Executive are more serious and warrant much more scrutiny than my colleagues have given them.”