President Donald Trump on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his state tax returns through a newly passed New York law.
The president’s lawyers said the law was nothing more than an effort to get information about his personal finances to embarrass him politically.
The suit referred to an NBC News story on Monday to show that Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., was under pressure from fellow Democrats to make use of the new law.
The suit asks the court to provide a declaratory judgment that the committee “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose for obtaining the President’s state tax information.”
The lawsuit asserts that the law, called the TRUST Act, violates Trump’s First Amendment rights. It seeks to block the Ways and Means Committee from being able to request the taxes through the law, prevent New York Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing it, and stop New York Department of Taxation Commissioner Michael Schmidt from complying with any request for Trump’s tax filings.
“The House Rules authorize the Committee to oversee ‘Federal laws,’ not state tax laws,” says the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. “And nothing in the House Rules allows the Committee to demand the private financial information of a sitting President.”
The New York law allows the chairmen of three congressional tax-related committees — the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee and Joint Committee on Taxation — to request the state returns of public officials only after efforts to gain access to federal tax filings through the Treasury Department have failed. Neal is the only Democrat who can utilize the law.
The bill states that any “legitimate task” of Congress is a valid reason to make the request, should efforts to obtain the returns at the federal level be stonewalled by the Treasury Department. New York state tax filings are not identical to the federal returns, but contain much of the same information.
Neal said last month he wouldn’t use the law to request the state returns because he feels it could harm his attempt at getting the federal filings. Neal sued the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department for those returns.
But he is under pressure from Democrats to act. An aide to a Democratic member of Ways and Means told NBC News in a report on Monday that “there has been widespread frustration from members of the committee at how slowly this process has moved.”
“We respect his focus on moving rapidly on health care, tax policy and pensions, but at the same time many of us have tried to express the sense of urgency which we and our constituents feel about enforcing the law and obtaining Trump’s tax returns, and we just haven’t seen that sense of urgency reflected over the past six months,” the aide added.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., another Ways and Means member, expressed openness to using the New York law.
“I appreciate what the New York legislature and Gov. Cuomo are trying to accomplish,” Pascrell said. “We should investigate any tool provided us that might shed sunlight on Trump’s tax return history, including his tax reporting practices and the results of any IRS audits.”