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Trump-Appointed Judge–Again–Halts Congressional Lawsuit for President’s Tax Returns


The House Ways and Means Committee’s protracted legal battle for President Donald Trump’s tax returns hit another obstacle when a federal judge on Friday–again–put the lawsuit on hold until a final decision is reached in a separate case. The case? Whether former White House counsel Don McGahn can be compelled to testify before Congress.

The McGahn case will be heard by the full D.C. appellate court after the initial three-judge panel ruled that the judicial branch is constitutionally prohibited from deciding subpoena disputes between the legislative and executive branches.

Here, the House committee filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defied a subpoena to produce the president’s tax and business records last year.

In a seven-page order, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, who donated to Trump’s 2016 campaign, said he was staying litigation because the McGahn case presented “several threshold questions that bear heavily” on the parties’ arguments in the Trump tax return case.

Specifically, McFadden reasoned that if he were to follow the precedent set by the initial McGahn decision, he would dismiss the Committee’s claim that the court should enforce the congressional subpoena for the president’s financial documents.

According to McFadden, unless the committee wanted to drop the claim for judicial enforcement of the subpoena, the shared legal and constitutional questions inextricably linking the two cases meant the court had no choice but to freeze litigation so long as McGahn remained a “moving target.”

“The subpoena-enforcement issue is unsettled for now. And piecemeal litigation would be an inefficient use of resources. These reasons alone favor a stay,” McFadden wrote. “Thus, the Court will await further proceedings in McGahn before it acts on either the subpoena-enforcement claim or the § 6103(f) claims.”

When Judge McFadden put the tax return lawsuit on hold the first time it was clear that the issue was one of standing.

However, while the D.C. Circuit had been scheduled to rehear the McGahn case at the end of April, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19  could potentially delay the litigation indefinitely. In response to the pandemic, the D.C. Circuit courthouse on Tuesday declared that it was suspending all in-person oral arguments for the time being.

“Counsel and the public are advised that in keeping with the public health precautions recommended in response to Covid-19, and in light of developing circumstances, the court will continue to monitor and examine options for cases currently scheduled for oral argument,” the D.C. Circuit said in the order.

Read McFadden’s full order below:

Trump Tax Return Pause by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via via SAUL LOEB_AFP_Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.