WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court sided Tuesday with a House committee seeking access to former President Donald Trump's tax returns, rejecting Trump's contention that Congress was overstepping.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with a lower court judge’s decision in favor of Congress. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden — a former Justice Department official and Trump appointee — ruled in December that the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has broad authority to request the records, and the Treasury Department should provide the tax returns to the committee.
The three appeals court judges agreed.
"The Trump Parties contend that the Chairman’s Request exceeds Congress’s investigative powers. It does not," the judges wrote. Two of the judges, David Sentelle and Karen Henderson, were appointed by President Ronald Reagan and one, Robert Wilkins, was appointed by President Barack Obama.
In their ruling, the judges also rejected Trump's argument that the request was problematic in part because it did not include a promise to keep the records confidential.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Trump would appeal or whether there'd be a resolution of the case before a new Congress takes office in January. If Republicans recapture control of the House in the fall election, they could drop the request for records next year.
The judges' decision came as the former president continues to be embroiled in legal fights. On Monday, the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House.
The House Ways and Means panel and its chairman, Democrat Richard Neal of Massachusetts, first requested Trump's tax returns in 2019 as part of an investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s audit program and tax law compliance by the former president. A federal law says the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers.
“With great patience, we followed the judicial process, and yet again, our position has been affirmed by the Courts," Neal said in a statement. “I’m pleased that this long-anticipated opinion makes clear the law is on our side. When we receive the returns, we will begin our oversight of the IRS’s mandatory presidential audit program.” The committee said on Twitter that it expected to receive the requested documents ”immediately."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the decision “an important victory for the rule of law.”
An email to Trump's attorneys was not immediately returned.
The Justice Department, under the Trump administration, had defended a decision by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to withhold the tax returns from Congress. Mnuchin argued that he could withhold the documents because he concluded they were being sought by Democrats for partisan reasons. A lawsuit ensued.
After President Joe Biden took office, the committee renewed the request, seeking Trump's tax returns and additional information from 2015-2020. The White House took the position that the request was a valid one and that the Treasury Department had no choice but to comply. Trump then attempted to halt the handover in court.
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. 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. The District Attorney job has since been taken over by Alvin Bragg and prosecutors in charge of the criminal probe have resigned, but Bragg has said the investigation is continuing.