Federal judge questions Democrats' effort to obtain Trump tax returns

A federal judge on Tuesday questioned a House committee's pursuit of former President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE's tax returns.

During a hearing in a long-running lawsuit from the House Ways and Means Committee, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden appeared concerned about the prospect of allowing the panel to obtain Trump's personal records.

During one exchange, he questioned the Biden administration's Justice Department lawyer over the agency's reversal in the case.

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"If Congress changes hands in a couple years here and a Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee asks for Hunter Biden's tax returns, are we just going to say, 'Oh, sure. You know, we've got to defer to Congress. They've said they're interested in legislating on presidential families, therefore we've got to turn them over'? Is that going to be the administration's position?" McFadden said.  

The judge indicated that he is also grappling with comments made by the committee's chairman, Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPelosi: Build Back Better may need to be 'more limited,' renamed Judge dismisses Trump suit to block Congress from getting tax returns Child tax credit expiration adds pressure for Democrats MORE (Mass.), and other Democrats about seeking the tax returns that suggest "there's something else going on" other than a valid legislative purpose.

It's unclear how McFadden, a Trump appointee, might rule in the case or whether he believes Democrats' various political comments about the tax returns would outweigh any valid purpose for the request.

The case has moved slowly in the more than two years since the committee sued the IRS to obtain the tax returns in July 2019.

The Justice Department reversed its court position this year, saying that the committee has the right to obtain the tax returns under a law that requires the IRS to provide such records to the Ways and Means Committee upon request.

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Trump's lawyers filed a new complaint in August seeking to block the Biden administration from complying with the committee's request. They argue that the committee has no valid legislative purpose for the tax returns and that the request is intended only as an attack on the former president.

"The requests are tailored to, and in practical operation will affect, only President Trump," the filing reads. "The requests single out President Trump because he is a Republican and a political opponent. They were made to retaliate against President Trump because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns."

The committee has maintained that the tax returns are important because Trump's "actions and statements raised unprecedented and serious concerns about his tax compliance and foreign entanglements and about the IRS’s ability to enforce the tax laws against him while President."

"Compared to past Presidents, Mr. Trump’s returns appear to be inordinately large and complex, reflecting his sprawling domestic and international business activities, which raises the question of whether the IRS has the requisite resources and authority to examine such returns as effectively as needed for a President," the committee's lawyers said in a court filing last month.

"And he repeatedly attacked the IRS and its audits of him both while a Presidential candidate and while President, which raised the important question of whether IRS employees are properly protected from a President’s attempts to improperly influence its audits," they added.

It's unclear when McFadden might rule in the case. In the months since he left office, Trump has continued his various legal battles against congressional investigations into him and his administration.

On Nov. 30, a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments in the former president's lawsuit seeking to block the House Jan. 6 select committee from obtaining extensive internal records from his White House.