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Trump sues to block House from getting his New York state tax returns

New York Attorney General Letitia James
New York Attorney General Letitia James (Seth Wenig/AP)
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President Trump sued House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and New York officials Tuesday to block any release of his state tax returns to the House under a state law passed this month.

In a 25-page lawsuit filed as a private citizen in federal court in Washington, Trump called the new law unconstitutional and alleges that it is part of a campaign to expose his private information for political gain.

The TRUST Act, signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and enacted July 7, allows New York tax officials to turn over Trump’s state tax returns to three House committees, provided the New York officials receive requests citing a “specified and legitimate legislative purpose.”

The fresh legal action joins a tide of courtroom battles waged by the president to shield his personal finances from investigators, including congressional Democrats, state lawmakers and regulators.

Trump counsel Jay Sekulow said the lawsuit is part of ongoing efforts “to end Presidential harassment,” calling the actions of the House and New York officials “nothing more than political retribution.”

Echoing criticism that Trump’s vow to fight “all” House subpoenas amounts to stonewalling, New York lawmakers portrayed the state law as empowering congressional oversight by unearthing details of the president’s past business dealings, his income and other personal financial information that he has refused to disclose via his federal tax returns.

However, Trump personal attorney William S. Consovoy alleged in Tuesday’s court filings that state lawmakers acted only after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied a request by Neal’s Housel panel for Trump’s federal returns, prompting a separate lawsuit by the House panel to enforce its subpoena.

“New York legislators admitted that the TRUST Act’s purpose was to help the Committee expose the President’s private tax information for political gain,” Consovoy alleged, calling the law a “constitutional escape hatch should [the Committee] not want to wait for the federal court case and its appeals process to be finalized.”

Trump asked the court to block Neal’s committee and New York’s attorney general and tax commissioner from exercising the law, arguing that House lawmakers have “no legitimate legislative purpose” to seek the state returns since the committee’s jurisdiction is limited to federal taxes.

Consovoy also asked the court to declare the TRUST Act unconstitutional, arguing that the “New York Legislature enacted it to discriminate and retaliate against President Trump for his speech and politics” in violation of his First Amendment rights.

The new suit was assigned to the same judge presiding over the House’s earlier lawsuit to enforce the Ways and Means Committee subpoena, U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, a former official in the Trump Justice Department. Unlike the president in his lawsuit, the House panel has not sought expedited review.

In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “President Trump has spent his career hiding behind lawsuits, but, as New York’s chief law enforcement officer, I can assure him that no one is above the law,” adding: “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.”

In the House lawsuit, Neal’s committee said it sought six years of Trump’s tax returns as part of an investigation into the audit program at the Internal Revenue Service. The committee invoked its “unfettered access” to tax-return information to oversee the Treasury Department, the IRS and the nation’s tax laws under authority enacted after the Teapot Dome government corruption scandal in the 1920s.

The committee alleged that it has not been able to carry out its duties “because the President has declined to follow the practice of every elected President since Richard Nixon of voluntarily disclosing their tax returns.”

Committee member Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) ridiculed Trump’s new filing, calling it “a pathetic stunt” that should be “laughed out of court,” adding, “They’ve blocked congressional testimony, they’ve obstructed prosecutorial investigations, and they’ve abused executive privilege — all to protect Trump’s malfeasance. . . .The question remains: What the heck is he is hiding?”

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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