Donald Trump’s lawyer argued before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday that the House Ways and Means Committee’s quest for the ex-president’s tax returns presented a ‘constitutional minefield’
Donald Trump‘s lawyer on Thursday urged a federal court to block House Democrats from getting his tax returns, insisting lawmakers are seeking the ex-president’s financial information for political reasons.
Attorney Cameron Thomas Norris is representing Trump in an appeal of a lower court’s December 2021 decision that stated House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has a right to obtain the returns.
‘The key question in these cases is whether the committee has a legitimate legislative purpose,’ Norris said, according to The Hill. ‘If we didn’t plausibly allege a non-legislative purpose here, then no one ever could.’
Conservative jurist David Sentelle, a senior judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals who was first nominated to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan, seemed skeptical.
‘You’re pleading may not carry the ball for you because there may be a legislative actor who has two purposes. You allege they have one. And I’m asking you: why isn’t it possible they have two?’ Sentelle grilled.
Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson questioned on whether the case should be sent back to a lower court so a legal different framework could be applied — a move that would further delay resolution of the case.
The committee has been fighting a legal battle to obtain the documents from the Internal Revenue Service since July 2019.
Norris claimed on Thursday that Democrats’ real goal was not to investigate the ex-president’s finances for legislative purposes but to ‘to immediately publicly expose and release President Trump’s tax returns.’
That would mean Trump’s tax history would finally be publicized — something he’s resisted — as the 2024 presidential election cycle looms.
The Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee, which includes Chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), has been trying to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS since July 2019
Trump was the first president in 40 years not to release his tax returns as he aimed to keep secret the details of his wealth and the activities of his family company, the Trump Organization.
A federal law empowers the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to request any person’s tax returns from the IRS.
Invoking that statute, the committee sued in to force Trump’s Treasury Department to release the tax returns.
House Democrats have said they need Trump’s tax returns to see if the IRS is properly auditing presidential returns and to assess whether new legislation is needed.
The Justice Department initially stood by the ex-president’s arguments before President Joe Biden took office and his administration reversed course to side with Congress.
Trump is appealing a decision made by District Judge Trevor McFadden, who he appointed. McFadden sided with Congress in its right to obtain Trump’s returns and said the ex-president was ‘wrong on the law’
When Trump sued to block their release District Judge Trevor McFadden — a jurist he appointed — sided with the House committee late last year and ruled the Republican was ‘wrong on the law.’
On Thursday Norris reportedly complained that Democrats’ request was overbroad in relation to a president’s status and presented a ‘constitutional minefield.’
He said: ‘We want Congress to adequately identify what it’s doing with specificity and not use vague and loosely worded explanations.’
The Trump attorney was answering a line of questioning from Barack Obama-appointed Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins, who grilled Norris on why the scope of the House Ways and Means Committee’s constitutional duties would not involve oversight in addition to legislative work.
Last year the Supreme Court cleared the way for a Manhattan prosecutor to obtain Trump’s tax returns from his accounting firm, but that ruling did not directly affect House Democrats’ case.
A top attorney who recently resigned from that probe said Trump was ‘guilty of numerous felony violations’ on Thursday.
He added that it was ‘a grave failure of justice’ to not hold the ex-president accountable, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by the New York Times.
Mark F. Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor and private attorney, came out of retirement to join the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s criminal probe into Trump and his family business. His work on the probe was pro bono.
He resigned on the same day as Carey R. Dunne, another prominent lawyer leading the investigation.
That inquiry was running parallel to a civil investigation into the former president and Trump real estate empire that’s being pursued by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Trump has on multiple occasions dismissed both probes as politically-motivated ‘witch hunts.’