US House panel sues Treasury, IRS over Trump's tax returns

Trump administration's refusal to comply with congressional inquiries sets up lengthy court battle with Democrats.

    US President Donald Trump talks to reporters during the annual Congressional picnic event at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]
    US President Donald Trump talks to reporters during the annual Congressional picnic event at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

    A Democratic-led US House of Representatives panel on Tuesday filed a long-awaited lawsuit in federal court to demand President Donald Trump's individual and business tax returns.

    The House Ways and Means Committee filed the lawsuit against the US Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused a legal request for the records and defied two congressional subpoenas seeking the returns.

    "Despite its mandatory obligation, the Treasury Department failed to comply with the law and denied the Committee's request," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said in a statement.

    Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow called the filing the "latest effort at presidential harassment" and said the president's legal team would respond in court.

    Democrats want Trump's tax records from 2013 to 2018, which legal experts have said could shed light on the president's business dealings. Such a legal process, experts said, could unfold slowly and become an issue in the 2020 election.

    'Extraordinary attack'

    Mnuchin refused to hand over the returns after Neal asked for the documents on April 3 under a federal law that says Treasury "shall furnish" such records upon request. The committee believes it is the first time an administration has denied such a request, according to the lawsuit.

    "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 lawsuit said. 

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    "The judiciary has been a bulwark against Trump's steaming corruption and roughshod lawlessness. I have no doubt our lower courts will side with Congress," tweeted Representative Bill Pascrell, a Ways and Means Democrat who has helped lead the campaign to obtain Trump's returns.

    Democrats who wanted Neal to move to court more quickly expressed relief over the filing.

    "This long-overdue legal action is needed to keep this bad president from setting a bad precedent," Representative Lloyd Doggett said in a statement.

    Congressional Republicans condemned the effort as a dangerous political fishing expedition by Democrats that could "weaponise" confidential taxpayer information.

    "The Democrats' partisan, flawed lawsuit continues their unprecedented and illegitimate pursuit to expose President Trump's private tax information," Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on Neal's committee, said in a statement.

    Other probes

    Ways and Means is one of half a dozen panels in the lower house pursuing investigations from the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential race to the sprawling business interests he has not divested since taking office. 

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    The White House is refusing to cooperate with most of them, setting up other expected legal battles.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told MSNBC on Monday that he expects a lawsuit to be filed soon in federal court to enforce a subpoena for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn.

    Trump broke with decades-old political precedent by refusing to release his returns as a presidential candidate in 2016 and he continues to do so as president, saying his tax returns are under IRS audit.

    House Democrats are using Trump's audit claim as grounds for seeking the returns. The lawsuit said the documents are needed to determine whether IRS audits are working properly, to examine how the agency administers tax policy where Trump is concerned and to ensure that Trump is complying with tax laws.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies