Lawsuit Against Trump Delayed While Similar Dispute Pending

March 23, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. It currently houses the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A federal judge put a lawsuit by Congress against President Donald Trump on hold Friday until other legal action against the White House is resolved.

The lawsuit filed by congressional Democrats seeks six years of Trump’s federal tax records.

The subpoena they want enforced is supposed to uncover any potential fraud or deceit in the president’s tax returns and business dealings.

First, another lawsuit against former White House counsel Donald McGahn must be resolved, according to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden.

At the direction of the White House, McGahn has refused to testify to the House of Representatives about his knowledge of Russian influence that might have helped Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Congress obtained a subpoena to force McGahn’s testimony but the Trump administration resisted, leading to an appeal that is pending before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

McFadden said the similarity of the lawsuits means they must be resolved by a single court and ruling to ensure consistency. “Piecemeal litigation would be an inefficient use of resources,” McFadden wrote.

Both lawsuits deal with tough issues of the courts’ authority to decide political policy disputes between Congress and the presidency, according to McFadden.

So far, questions of whether Congress can use courts to enforce subpoenas “is unsettled for now,” he said.

McFadden negotiated with attorneys for the House Ways and Means Committee about dropping their request for court-ordered subpoena enforcement and instead seeking Trump’s tax returns under administrative rules.

They refused, saying in a court filing they wanted enforcement of the subpoena and tax code administrative rules.

The Ways and Means Committee’s refusal prompted McFadden to issue the stay.

The U.S. District Court “will await further proceedings in McGahn” by the appellate court before making any decisions in the tax case, McFadden wrote.

The Trump administration has filed a motion to dismiss both lawsuits. So far, they have won in lower court rulings.

Last month, a federal court issued an opinion saying the House Democrats lack standing to enforce a subpoena that orders McGahn to testify to Congress. Standing means a party to a lawsuit has a stake in the outcome and will suffer harm without court intervention.

The dispute led to a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month where Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied he was showing favoritism toward Republican interests.

He said federal privacy laws make it illegal for him to publicly release the president’s tax returns.

“It seems that Democrats’ requests get shoved in the back of a filing cabinet while somehow Republican requests get the red-carpet treatment,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said during the Senate Finance Committee hearing.

He added, “Mr. Secretary, you are stonewalling about stonewalling.”

Mnuchin replied, “That’s really not fair at all.”

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