A federal judge said Wednesday that he’d like to see if compromise is possible in House Democrats’ lawsuit seeking President Donald Trump’s long-hidden tax returns.
Judge Trevor McFadden’s surprising comments came in the waning moments of a nearly three-hour court hearing that had largely ignored the substance of Democrats’ suit.
The case is still in its early stages, and the court was considering a bid by Trump’s lawyers to have the suit thrown out even before the two sides begin debating its merits.
McFadden, a 2017 Trump appointee, sounded skeptical of the effort but his comments about seeking compromise could be a sign of how the case will eventually proceed.
That would be bad news for Democrats, who quickly retorted Wednesday that they didn’t see the possibility of a compromise.
“There really isn’t an accommodation that could be had,” said Megan Barbero, a lawyer for House Democrats.
McFadden’s comments likely cheered Trump’s lawyers, who have argued compromise is still possible.
At issue is a lawsuit by House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) seeking to enforce a subpoena for Trump’s long-hidden tax records. Neal is demanding them under a 1924 law allowing the heads of Congress’ tax committees to examine anyone’s private tax information.
Trump’s lawyers say Neal shouldn’t be able to sue the executive branch, pointing to a long history of the White House and Congress working out fights over information among themselves.
Congress has sued the executive branch on relatively rare occasions.
McFadden sounded skeptical of the Trump team’s efforts, calling it a “tough position for me to accept.”
“Can I really kick this now?” he asked, without ruling.
Shortly before the hearing wrapped up, McFadden said the two sides should begin thinking about if they might be able to reach an accommodation, even though they’ve been in a standoff ever since Neal asked for Trump’s returns in April.
“There should be a way for the parties to figure this out,” he said.
Democrats, wary of their suit looking like a partisan fishing expedition, have couched their demands for Trump’s returns in terms of needing to examine how well the IRS is implementing a longstanding policy of automatically auditing every president. They say they want to know if the agency is going easy on Trump because he is ultimately head of the agency.
But Trump’s lawyers have seized on that rationale, saying that if Democrats really want to know about IRS audits of the president, they are happy to help them understand — short of turning over Trump’s tax returns.
They also argued Wednesday that the case ought to be dumped because it would lead to lawmakers flooding the executive branch with subpoenas.
And, they said, lawmakers have other ways of getting information out of the executive branch short of going to court, such as by withholding funding for federal agencies.
Democrats countered it’s hardly unusual for courts to decide highly politicized cases, and that they need Trump’s returns to fulfill their oversight and investigative responsibilities.
“The committee is entitled to that information,” said Barbero.
The case is one of several dealing with Trump’s financial records wending its way through the courts.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, must provide his returns to a Manhattan grand jury, despite Trump’s attempt to block the handover. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is seeking eight years of financial records as part of an investigation into payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claim they had sexual relations with Trump.
In another case, an appeals court last month sided with House Oversight Committee Democrats in their bid to spring eight years of Trump’s records from Mazars.
Yet another lawsuit is also pending, in which Trump is suing to prevent Neal from taking advantage of a New York state law designed to give him access to the president’s state returns. That case has gotten bogged down in a dispute over whether it ought to be heard in Washington or New York City.
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