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Roberts Extends the House’s Tax Return Request Freeze

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Chief Justice John Roberts issued an injunction on Tuesday prohibiting the Treasury Department from providing former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to a House committee, the latest move in a long-running battle over whether Congress can obtain them.

On Monday, Trump’s lawyers urged the Supreme Court to halt proceedings while they filed a formal appeal of a verdict by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which ruled that the House Ways and Means Committee had a right to see his tax returns.

Roberts is in charge of appeals from the District of Columbia Circuit Court. In a brief order, he gave the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been seeking the returns since 2019, until November 10 to respond to Trump’s latest move. The imposition of a deadline indicates that the entire Supreme Court will rule on the subject.

The committee’s Democrats are running out of time to obtain Trump’s tax returns. If Republicans retake control of the House in next week’s midterm elections, as polls predict, they would almost certainly reject the proposal when the new Congress convenes in January.

Trump has maintained a strategy of utilising the slow pace of litigation to run out the clock on oversight efforts since taking office.

The judgment effectively extended an injunction by Trevor N. McFadden, a Trump-appointed U.S. District Court judge, that had barred the Treasury Department from delivering the tax returns to Congress while the circuit court evaluated the issue.

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McFadden concluded — and the District of Columbia Circuit Court agreed — that the law grants the Ways and Means Committee access to the returns.

However, the judge waited on the issue for nearly two and a half years before issuing his decision, and the added delay raises the likelihood that the House committee will run out of time to receive them.

The dispute relates back to the 2016 presidential election, when Trump defied established norms for presidential candidates — and, later, for sitting presidents — by refusing to provide his tax returns. After Democrats took control of the House in 2019, they began looking into his undisclosed finances.

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The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., sought Trump’s tax returns, citing a federal provision that provides his body the ability to see any taxpayer’s paperwork. However, the Trump administration declined to give over the documents to the Treasury Department.

The House filed a lawsuit in July 2019 to enforce its request. However, McFadden delayed making a decision, and the session of Congress expired. In 2021, Neal reiterated his request for Trump’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020, claiming that the committee was looking into a mechanism that audits presidents.

The Justice Department also released a memorandum under the Biden administration stating that the committee had a legal right to request the information. McFadden finally delivered a judgment in December 2021, admitting that the legislation states that the committee has a legal right to collect the documents.

Trump filed an appeal, and McFadden’s ruling was upheld in August by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Trump requested that the case be reheard by the whole circuit court. It refused to do so last week, prompting Trump to turn to the Supreme Court while he continued to fight the matter carefully.

“The Ways and Means Committee believe the law is on our side and will provide a timely response as required,” Dylan Peachey, communications director for the House Ways and Means Committee’s Democratic staff, said in a statement.

She went on to say that Neal “looks forward to the Supreme Court’s prompt consideration.”

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