What to know about the fight over Trump's tax returns

The fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE’s tax returns has moved to the courts.

In recent weeks, the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee has filed a lawsuit in an effort to obtain Trump’s federal tax returns, and Trump has filed a lawsuit to prevent the committee from getting his New York state tax returns.

The court cases are sure to be closely watched. Democrats view obtaining Trump’s tax returns as a key oversight priority. Trump is the first president in decades who refused to voluntarily release any of his tax returns, and he is determined to keep them private.

Here’s what you need to know about the lawsuits concerning Trump’s tax returns.

 

What are the two different lawsuits?

Two separate cases were filed in federal court in D.C. this month.

In the first lawsuit, filed at the beginning of the month, the Ways and Means Committee is suing the Treasury Department, the IRS and the agencies’ leaders. The committee is asking the court to order the agencies to provide the committee with six years of Trump’s personal and business federal tax returns.

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Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump argues NY tax return case should take place in DC NY files motion to keep Trump tax returns lawsuit out of DC court Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-Mass.) requested Trump’s tax returns in April under a provision in the federal tax code that says the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” tax returns requested by the chairs of Congress’s tax committees. Neal has said that his committee wants the returns because it is conducting oversight and considering legislative proposals about how the IRS enforces tax laws against a president.

But Treasury and the IRS rejected those requests and subsequent subpoenas Neal issued, saying that Neal’s request lacks a “legitimate legislative purpose.”

Both Democrats and the Trump administration expected the dispute to end up in court. Democrats in their lawsuit are asking the court to require the administration to comply with the tax code provision and their subpoenas.

The second lawsuit, filed this week by Trump in his personal capacity, centers on a New York state law enacted earlier this month that allows Congress’s tax committees to request public officials’ state tax returns from the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance. Neal has not yet made a decision about whether he will request Trump’s state tax returns under the law.

Trump is suing the Ways and Means Committee, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), and New York Department of Taxation and Finance Commissioner Michael Schmidt. Trump’s personal lawyers are arguing that the committee lacks a legitimate legislative purpose for using the New York law and that the law violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.

 

What's the latest in the lawsuit over Trump's NY returns?

Most of the recent court developments in the tax return fight relate to the lawsuit over the New York law.

Trump on Wednesday filed an emergency application, asking a judge to enjoin Neal from requesting his New York tax returns until the president has an opportunity to be heard in court. The Ways and Means Committee is objecting to the motion, arguing that courts lack jurisdiction to bar it from utilizing the New York law.

Trump also argued that the two tax return lawsuits are related and should be heard by the same judge, while the New York officials who are defendants in his lawsuit disagreed.

At a hearing on Thursday, Judge Trevor McFadden, who is assigned to the lawsuit over the request for Trump’s federal returns, ruled that he should not also be assigned to the lawsuit over the New York law. He did not issue a ruling on Trump’s emergency motion.

The new judge assigned to the case has scheduled a hearing on Trump's emergency motion for Monday afternoon. 

In the lawsuit over the request for Trump's federal tax returns, the next big step is for the administration to respond to the Ways and Means Committee's complaint. 

Trump and several of his business entities have been added to the case as intervenor-defendants, meaning they will also have the opportunity to be heard in the case. McFadden said in an order that before Trump and his businesses file any motions, they have to discuss with the administration whether they can file briefs in a consolidated manner.

 

Who are the judges in the cases?

McFadden, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia judge who is handling the lawsuit over Trump’s federal tax returns, is a Trump appointee who had been randomly assigned to the case shortly after it was filed.

McFadden started as a D.C. district judge in October 2017. Earlier this year, McFadden ruled that the House didn’t have standing to sue to temporarily bar Trump from using military funds for a border wall. That ruling has caught the attention of legal experts following the lawsuit over Trump’s federal tax returns since they think it is likely that the Trump administration will argue the House lacks standing to sue in that case as well. 

But experts also note that McFadden’s ruling in the border wall case pointed out that there are differences between the House’s standing to sue to get information for an investigation and whether the House has standing to sue over its appropriations power.

After McFadden ruled that he should not be handling both of the tax return lawsuits, the lawsuit over the New York tax return law on Friday was randomly assigned to Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee who was just confirmed by the Senate in May.

Nichols most recently was a partner at the law firm WilmerHale. He previously served as a top lawyer in former President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasWhat to know about the fight over Trump's tax returns Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Harris walks back support for eliminating private insurance | Missouri abortion clinic to remain open through August | Georgia sued over 'heartbeat' abortion law MORE. While at the DOJ, he was the lead counsel in defending former White House counsel Harriet Miers in a lawsuit brought by the House Judiciary Committee trying to enforce a subpoena.

 

What are House Democrats doing to bolster their case?

House Democrats on Thursday released documents related to Congress’s scrutiny of former President Nixon’s tax returns in an effort to show that their request for Trump’s tax returns isn’t unique.

The documents the Ways and Means Committee released show that the Joint Committee on Taxation in the 1970s had made a request to the IRS for Nixon’s tax returns while he was president and received them from the agency on the same day that the request was made. The documents also show that the Joint Committee on Taxation had requested and received tax returns from years that predate the tax returns Nixon publicly released and that predate his presidency.

The Trump administration has repeatedly argued that Democrats’ request for Trump’s returns is unprecedented. But Democrats argue that the newly released documents demonstrate that is not the case.

Republicans are countering that the Nixon and Trump tax return requests are different because Nixon had asked the Joint Committee on Taxation to examine his tax returns. Trump, however, doesn’t want Congress to see his tax filings.

The Nixon-era documents were released after the Ways and Means Committee first examined a portion of them behind closed doors and then voted to send them to the House. If the panel ever obtains Trump’s tax returns, it would undertake a similar process to review them and vote to make parts or all of them public.