As Democrats in the House of Representatives battle in court to obtain his income tax returns before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump was dealt a setback on Wednesday in his fight to keep those returns private. The apparent defeat came at the hands of a federal judge who was appointed by Trump himself in 2017, according to a Bloomberg News report.
The House Ways and Means Committee is seeking six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns as part of its investigation into Trump's finances. Federal law states that tax officials must hand over the returns of any United States citizen to the Ways and Means Committee upon request. However, the Trump administration says that the House is exceeding its authority by demanding Trump's tax returns.
Trump has refused to release the returns even under a congressional subpoena. His acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has stated publicly that the administration will "never" hand Trump's tax returns over to Congress, according to the Bloomberg report.
In July, the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives sued over the tax returns in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The case was randomly assigned to Judge Trevor McFadden, who formerly worked for the Trump transition team, as well as for the U.S. Justice Department in the Trump administration, according to Law.com. Trump appointed McFadden to the federal bench in 2017.
McFadden has ruled in Trump's favor in earlier cases. As Law.com recounted, when the House sued to block funding for Trump's southern border wall, McFadden ruled that it had no "standing" to sue. According to McFadden's ruling, the House had overstepped its authority under the Constitutional separation of powers and was not permitted to use the courts to counter an executive branch policy.
But on Monday, McFadden strongly indicated that he would rule the other way in the tax return lawsuit, saying that there is "a pretty strong line of cases" to show that the House would indeed have standing to sue for Trump's tax returns, according to Bloomberg.
"Congress has been subpoenaing for a long time and the executive has been complying for a long time," McFadden remarked during Monday's hearing.
The Trump administration had asked McFadden to simply throw the case out, claiming that the House Democrats have no legitimate reason for obtaining the tax returns.
Trump broke a four-decade tradition among major presidential candidates in 2016 when he refused to release his tax returns, claiming falsely that they were under audit, according to a report by Time.
Trump claimed that he would have "no problem" releasing the returns once he was no longer under the supposed "audit." But not only has Trump continued to withhold the returns, but he has also fought to keep them under wraps in multiple court cases, taking the legally risky step of defying subpoenas to keep the returns hidden.
The state of New York is also suing to obtain Trump's tax returns. Possibly in response, Trump — a lifelong New Yorker — recently changed his legal address to Florida. According to journalist Seth Abramson, the author of the book Proof of Collusion, Trump is intent on withholding his tax returns because they may reveal that he, in fact, is not a billionaire as he claims. Trump may actually possess "a negative net worth," Abramson speculated,
In other words, in Abramson's view, the returns may show that Trump is broke.