A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday that was brought by former President Donald Trump in his attempt to block congressional lawmakers from obtaining his tax returns.
The ruling, handed down by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden — a former Justice Department official and Trump appointee — found that the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has broad authority, and the Treasury Department should provide the tax returns to the committee.
In his ruling, McFadden said that “even if the former President is right on the facts, he is wrong on the law.”
The House panel sought access to Trump’s federal tax returns as part of an investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s audit program and tax law compliance by the former president. The committee had sought Trump’s personal and business returns for 2013 through 2018. A federal law says the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers.
“A long line of Supreme Court cases requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries,” the judge wrote. “Even the special solicitude accorded former presidents does not alter the outcome.”
The judge stayed his ruling for two weeks, giving Trump’s legal team time to file an appeal.
The ruling also found that the House panel and its chairman, Richard Neal, had the legal discretion to publish Trump’s tax returns.
“It might not be right or wise to publish the returns, but it is the Chairman’s right to do so,” McFadden wrote in an opinion accompanying his ruling. “Congress has granted him this extraordinary power, and courts are loath to second guess congressional motives or duly enacted statutes.”
The Justice Department, under the Trump administration, had defended a decision by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to withhold the tax returns. Mnuchin argued that he could withhold the documents because he concluded they were being sought by Democrats for partisan reasons.
In July, the Justice Department published a legal opinion concluding that the Treasury Department must provide the committee with the tax returns. The memo said Neal had “invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information” and, under federal law, “Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. already has obtained copies of Trump’s personal and business tax records as part of a criminal investigation. Trump tried to prevent his accountants from handing over the documents, taking the issue to the Supreme Court. The justices rejected Trump’s argument that he had broad immunity as president.