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Trump sues to stop House from getting N.Y. state tax returns

President Donald Trump sued to block the Democrat-led U.S. House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his tax records from New York state, in the latest attempt to keep his personal financial information out of public view.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington federal court, Trump is attempting to fend off committee chairman Richard Neal’s potential request for the documents under New York’s TRUST Act, which compels the state’s tax department to comply with the House committee’s records requests. The president is suing as a private citizen.

“Chairman Neal is facing intense pressure from his fellow Democrats to invoke the TRUST Act and obtain the president’s state tax returns,” Trump said in the complaint. “Succumbing to this pressure, the chairman recently announced that he does not oppose using the TRUST Act and that House counsel was ‘reviewing’ it now.”

President Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media, during a meeting in the Oval Office.
US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media, during a meeting with Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan (unseen) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 22 July 2019. The two leaders discussed regional security issues and economic support.

Obtaining Trump’s New York state tax returns would be just a partial political win for Democrats, who are hoping to learn more about the president’s finances ahead of the 2020 elections. State tax returns show much of the same information as federal returns about income and tax breaks but don’t provide much information on out-of-state income or charitable contributions.

Trump also sued New York Attorney General Letitia James. The aim, according to the complaint, is to prevent the state from acting on the recently passed law.

Presidential candidates aren’t required to disclose their tax information, but every elected president since Richard Nixon has done so.

“President Trump has spent his career hiding behind lawsuits,” James said in a statement. “The TRUST Act will shine a light on the president’s finances and finally offer transparency to millions of Americans yearning to know the truth.”

The lawsuit comes three weeks after the House committee led by the Massachusetts Democrat sued to force the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to hand over Trump’s tax records from the past six years. That suit was filed after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rebuffed earlier requests for that information.

The real purpose of that initial request was exposure of Trump’s private tax information, according to the new complaint. “The State of New York shares this ‘animating purpose’ and is eager to help the committee expose the president’s private tax information,” Trump claims.

Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said in a statement that the intent of the lawsuit was to “end presidential harassment,” adding the actions taken by the House and New York officials “are nothing more than political retribution.”

The TRUST Act was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this month. Both he and James are Democrats.

Neal’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for James, Kelly Donnelly, said she couldn’t immediately comment on the complaint.

Neal hasn’t committed to asking New York state for the returns.

“The House counsel is reviewing all of that right now,” he said earlier this month. “They still have some legitimate concerns about it. That comes from House counsel, not me.”

Asking for the New York tax returns could undercut the Massachusetts congressman’s effort to get the federal tax returns, because he said he needs them to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service is properly doing its job in annually auditing presidents and vice-presidents.

Judge named by Trump

The earlier suit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, whom Trump nominated to serve on the trial-level court in the nation’s capital in 2017. In a separate filing with the court on Tuesday, the president’s lawyers designated their new lawsuit as related to that earlier case, meaning it too may be assigned to McFadden.

Last month, the judge rejected a suit filed by the House of Representatives challenging the president’s plan to fund his southern U.S. border wall with about $6.1 billion Congress had allocated for other purposes. McFadden concluded he lacked jurisdiction to consider the interbranch dispute.

The president’s attorneys William Consovoy and Patrick Strawbridge are leading federal lawsuits to block the release of his financial records to two other House committees.

The lawyers are repeating earlier arguments that congressional committees can’t investigate private individuals without a legitimate legislative purpose. The president’s attorneys also assert that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and association protect their client from politically motivated discrimination or retaliation.

The TRUST Act should be struck down on that basis, they said.

“Ultimately, this issue was litigated in the 2016 election,” according to the complaint. “Voters heard the criticisms” from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, “and they elected President Trump anyway. Democrats in Congress and across the country, however, have only become more eager to disclose the President’s tax returns for political gain.”

The case is Trump v. Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, 19-cv-2173, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).