Developments in two major court cases this week illustrate how House Democrats may be getting closer to obtaining President Donald Trump’s tax returns, even as Congress is away from Washington on summer recess.
After the White House repeatedly rebuffed congressional requests for the president’s financial records, the House Ways and Means Committee in July filed a lawsuit seeking six years of his tax returns. The suit named the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
On Tuesday, lawyers representing the Ways and Means Committee submitted to the court records that included an exchange of correspondence between the panel’s chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, D-N.Y., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
In an Aug. 8 letter, Neal wrote that his committee had “received an unsolicited communication from a federal employee setting forth credible allegations of ‘evidence of possible misconduct’-specifically, potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the mandatory audit program.”
In court records, attorneys for House Ways and Means said they have been investigating “whether the IRS’s self-imposed policy of annually auditing the returns of sitting Presidents is working properly.”
The revelation, Neal wrote in the letter, presents “a grave charge that appreciably heightens the Committee's concerns about the absence of appropriate safeguards as part of the mandatory audit program.” It was not immediately clear whether Neal was accusing the Treasury Department of tampering with the president's tax records. He concluded by asking Mnuchin for additional “documents and communications” from Treasury.
On Aug. 13, Mnuchin replied, referring Neal to the Treasury Department inspector general.
In a separate court case related to congressional efforts to get Trump’s tax information, lawyers for two financial institutions named in a lawsuit brought by the Trump Organization refused to say in court on Friday whether they had access to the president’s tax returns.
The Trump Organization had filed a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank and Capitol One in April as part of an effort to prevent them from turning over to Congress documents about the Trumps and their businesses.
On Friday, a three-judge federal appeals court panel heard oral arguments in New York. Attorneys for the two financial firms declined to shed light on what financial records they actual had in their possession, but promised to file court records on the matter over the weekend after a judge dictated they do so.
"Given the contractible obligation to our client, we cannot answer that question at this time ... in an open courtroom," said Raphael Proper, an attorney representing Deutsche Bank. "I think answering can run afoul."
The Friday morning hearing was held after a federal district court judge in May ruled against the Trump legal team’s effort to prevent Deutsche Bank from turning over his financial records to House Democrats.
Congress subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Capitol One Bank in April.