Rule of Law

Committee on Ways & Means, U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury

In Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia considered whether the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service should comply with the House Committee on Ways and Means’ requests to produce former President Trump’s and his businesses’ tax returns.

Case Summary

Under federal law, the Secretary of the Treasury shall, “[u]pon written request,” furnish the Committee on Ways and Means with “any [tax] return or [tax] return information.”  Exercising this authority, Committee Chairman Richard Neal requested in April 2019 that the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provide the Committee with then-President Donald Trump’s individual tax returns and the tax returns of eight of Trump’s businesses from 2013 through 2018.  The Committee requested this information as part of its investigative work as it considered the need for new legislation.

Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied that request, and the Committee filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  In June 2021, the Committee issued a new request for the same tax information from 2015 through 2020.  That request reiterated and expanded on the Committee’s previously stated rationales, including the need to review the IRS’s mandatory audit program, under which “individual income tax returns of a President are subject to mandatory examination.”

Trump and his businesses intervened in this case, arguing that these requests serve no legitimate legislative purpose and instead aim to achieve political goals.  CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the district court arguing that the Committee’s requests are valid and that, if accepted, Trump and his businesses’ arguments would drastically cabin the scope of Congress’s authority to investigate, thereby undermining Congress’s ability to fulfill its institutional role in our system of government.

First, our brief described the long history of legislative investigations in the British Parliament and early American Congresses.  As early as 1792, Congress asked for records from the Washington Administration as part of its investigation of a military defeat, and numerous members of Congress—including James Madison and other Framers—voted in favor of the inquiry.  That investigation was only the first of many investigations that Congress has conducted through the years.

Second, consistent with this long history of congressional investigations, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed Congress’s broad power to investigate, and it has reiterated that the scope of that power is coextensive with the scope of Congress’s power to legislate.  For instance, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’s power to investigate encompasses “inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes” and “surveys of defects in our social, economic or political system for the purpose of enabling the Congress to remedy them.”

Next, our brief argued that the Ways and Means Committee’s broad power to access tax information for investigatory purposes is consistent with the history of 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f)(1), the provision of federal law that authorizes it to request tax information from the Treasury Department.  Congress passed Section 6103 and its predecessors specifically to ensure that certain congressional committees could access return information relevant to their investigations and oversight efforts.

Finally, our brief argued that the Committee’s requests at issue in this case fall well within Congress’s investigatory authority.  The Committee’s written requests made clear that the documents would aid the Committee’s investigations into the need to amend or extend the nation’s tax laws, as well as the need to enact new legislation on the IRS’s presidential audit program and ways to address presidential conflicts of interest and business entanglements, among other things.

On December 14, 2021, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected former President Trump’s attempt to block the House Committee from obtaining his tax returns, noting that a long line of Supreme Court precedent requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries such as the one at issue in this case. The court stayed its ruling for 14 days to allow the parties to discuss next steps, including possible appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

Case Timeline

  • September 15, 2021

    CAC files amicus curiae brief

    D.D.C. Amicus Br.
  • September 28, 2021

    Trump files Answer and Amended Crossclaim

  • October 28, 2021

    Court denies pending motions to dismiss as moot

  • October 12, 2021

    House and IRS file new motions to dismiss

  • October 18, 2021

    CAC files amicus curiae brief

    D.D.C Amicus Br.
  • November 16, 2021

    D.D.C. hears oral argument

  • December 14, 2021

    D.D.C. dismisses the case

  • March 24, 2022

    D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument