The House Ways and Means Committee filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury, secretary of the department Steven Mnuchin, the Internal Revenue Service, and commissioner of the service Charles Rettig in the U.S. District Court in Washington on July 2. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected Neal's request in May, saying that it lacked a legitimate legislative objective.
The IRS insists a law allowing the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to access any tax return is overreaching and not applicable, while House Democrats argue the administration is skirting the law.
The committee claims that the law gives them "unfettered access to tax return information", but Mnuchin had claimed they lacked a legitimate legislative goal, which the Supreme Court said is necessary to make such inquiries.
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Congress retorts that its powers to compel information are far more sweeping than that and encompass oversight of important matters in general - and that its decisions about what information it wants to subpoena are not to be second-guessed by the White House.
Democrats also point in the lawsuit to legislative proposals related to presidential tax returns and a number of Trump's public statements about the returns, including an April 2019 comment that he "would love to give [his returns to Congress], but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit. Courts may be hesitant to accept such a broad construction of the House's investigatory power".
The committee is one of half a dozen that are conducting investigations involving Trump and his administration, from his campaign's contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential race to the sprawling business interests he has not divested since taking office.
It asked the court to force the administration to comply.
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Both Secretary Mnuchin and the Justice Department have argued that the Committee is not entitled to copies of the President's returns due to the fact that it lacks a "legitimate legislative goal". When a new House convenes with a new set of lawmakers in January 2021, Neal's subpoena will expire.
The complaint argues that the committee is not required to justify its reasons for seeking tax returns under Section 6103, but states that the panel "is investigating the IRS's administration of various tax laws and policies relating to Presidential tax returns and tax law compliance by President Trump, including whether the IRS's self-imposed policy of annually auditing the returns of sitting Presidents is working properly".
"That delay did nothing to strengthen the House's already strong legal hand, but can and will be used by Trump as evidence that there is no constitutional urgency here that would warrant a court expediting this case", Hauser said.
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