WASHINGTON (CN) – In the latest push by Democrats in their fight to lay bare President Donald Trump’s financial holdings, the House of Representatives filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday calling on the Treasury Department to turn over six years of his long-awaited tax returns.
The House Ways and Means Committee filed the complaint in Washington, D.C., federal court, saying Trump’s staunch refusal to hand over the documents underscores the appropriateness of the committee’s review of his IRS audits.
The committee, led by Democrat Richard Neal of Massachusetts, believes this to be the first time the executive branch has ever failed to furnish a president’s tax returns. It claims that by refusing to respond to subpoenas, the Treasury Department and IRS have shielded Trump from congressional scrutiny.
“Due to that noncompliance, the committee is now pursuing this matter in the federal courts,” Chairman Neal said in a statement Tuesday.
The panel insists that reviewing the president’s financial records is not only necessary based on historical precedent – every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily disclosed their tax returns – but is heightened by a need to understand Trump’s extensive business dealings.
“The returns would ‘shed light on exactly how [President Trump] and his businesses will be affected by the massive tax legislation he championed last year’ and help the committee identify specific portions of the tax code implicated by President Trump’s businesses,” the lawsuit states.
Furthermore, the committee argues the public release of Trump’s tax returns could give insight on claims put forth by Trump beginning on the campaign trail that the IRS was targeting him unfairly.
Candidate Trump, according to the complaint, stated that unlike “other people that are very rich,” he was audited annually and claimed it was because of his “assertedly strong Christian faith.”
The practice of congressional review of the president’s returns dates back to 1977, when an investigation uncovered President Nixon had filed erroneous tax returns while in office.
“Without reviewing the requested return materials, the committee cannot ensure that the IRS’s audit process is functioning fairly and effectively, understand how provisions of the tax code are implicated by President Trump’s returns, or exercise its legislative judgment to determine whether changes to the code may be warranted,” the complaint states.
The White House did not immediately respond Tuesday to the House committee’s lawsuit.
The issue of Trump’s business holdings while in the Oval Office is under review by Congress on various fronts. Just last week, a federal judge in Washington ruled a lawsuit brought against the president by more than 200 members of Congress can proceed to investigate Trump’s personal financial dealings with foreign governments.
The ruling marked a turning point in ongoing efforts to determine if Trump has violated the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving gifts from foreign or state governments or officials while in office without congressional consent.
State visits and other activities that generate profit for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, located less than a mile from the White House, could be a violation of that clause.