House Democrats file lawsuit to obtain Trump tax returns

The Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday to enforce subpoenas and obtain President Donald Trump's tax returns, an escalation in a fight for the President's personal financial information.

The lawsuit was filed in D.C. District Court against Treasury and the IRS and their respective leaders, Steve Mnuchin and Charles Rettig.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is seeking the President's tax returns using a little-known IRS provision known as 6103, which allows the Chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to request and obtain an individual's tax information for a legitimate legislative purpose.

The move comes months after Neal made his initial request for the President's tax information and as outside groups and other liberals on the Ways and Means Committee grew impatient with the pace of Neal's efforts. Neal initially made his request for Trump's tax returns April 3. After a series of follow-up letters, the Treasury Department formally denied the request at the beginning of May, and Neal issued subpoenas to the IRS and Treasury Department May 10.

"In refusing to comply with the statute, Defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS, and the tax laws on behalf of the American people who participate in the Nation's voluntary tax system," House attorneys wrote in the complaint.

The complaint states that the "refusal to produce the requested materials" has deprived the House panel of "information necessary to complete its time-limited investigation," and goes on to say the committee is asking the court to order the defendants "to comply with Section 6103(f) and the subpoenas by producing the requested information immediately."

Democrats had argued that under 6103 authority, Neal did not need to issue a subpoena, but internal deliberations with House Counsel got Neal to the point where the advice was that a subpoena could bolster the case in court. The Democrats on Neal's committee have argued they need access to the President's tax returns in order to understand how the IRS administers the presidential audit program. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department has argued it is not a legitimate legislative purpose.

The lawsuit piles onto several other court fights involving other committees and members of Congress seeking Trump financial records.

In two other court cases, Trump has tried to stop the House Oversight Committee, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Financial Services Committee from getting his financial records from Capital One bank, Deutsche Bank and the accounting firm Mazars USA.

So far, trial-level judges have sided firmly with Congress, saying the committees have broad authority to pursue investigations with subpoenas like these. Trump is appealing both court decisions, and the cases aren't likely to be resolved until at least next month.

"There can be no doubt as to the power of Congress, by itself or through its committees, to investigate matters," federal Judge Edgardo Ramos said at a court hearing in May. "Without the power to investigate ... Congress could be seriously handicapped in its efforts to exercise its constitutional function wisely and effectively."