Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday challenged in court last week’s US Justice Department order to turn his tax returns over to a House of Representatives committee, part of his long campaign to keep details of his wealth secret.
In a filing in federal court in the District of Columbia, Trump’s lawyers said the House Ways and Means Committee lacks a legitimate basis for seeking his federal tax returns, and that the Justice Department erred when it backed the committee’s request.
The department, reversing course from the stance it took when Trump was in office, on Friday told the Internal Revenue Service to provide the Republican businessman-turned-politician’s tax records to congressional investigators - a move he has long fought.
Trump was the first president in 40 years to not release his tax returns, as well as other documents, as he aimed to keep secret the details of his wealth and activities of his family company, the Trump Organization.
The Democratic-led Ways and Means Committee has said it wants the tax data to determine whether the IRS is properly auditing presidential tax returns in general and to assess whether new legislation is needed.
Trump’s lawyers called that a “pretextual” rationalization.
“The requests are tailored to, and in practical operation will affect, only President Trump,” they said in Wednesday’s court filing. “The requests single out President Trump because he is a Republican and a political opponent.”
Trump’s arguments will likely be rejected by the judge, said James Repetti, a tax law professor at Boston College Law School.
The House Ways and Means panel has invoked a provision of US law that lets it obtain tax returns from the IRS to further a “legislative purpose.”
The Justice Department’s order “does a very good job of explaining” why that standard has been met, Repetti said.
Critics accused Trump of using the Justice Department to advance his personal and political interests during his four years in office, and the department has moved to reassert its independence since Democratic President Joe Biden took office.
After another legal fight, the Manhattan district attorney’s office in February separately obtained Trump tax and financial records in a criminal investigation centering on his company, though the material was not publicly disclosed. The US Supreme Court ruled against Trump in that case.
The Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer early this month were charged in what a New York prosecutor called a “sweeping and audacious” tax fraud. Trump himself was not charged in that case.