Trying to conceal tax returns, Trump sees political coordination in subpoenas

President accuses New York officials of working with House Democrats to damage him

President Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the release of his state tax returns. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool file photo)
President Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the release of his state tax returns. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool file photo)
Posted August 20, 2019 at 10:22am

President Donald Trump says New York Attorney General Letitia James is “closely coordinating with House Democrats in a joint effort to obtain and expose” the president’s tax returns and financial information.

The allegation came in a filing Monday in federal district court in Washington as Trump amended the July 23 lawsuit he brought to block James and Michael R. Schmidt, commissioner of New York state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, from providing the president’s state tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.

[House Ways and Means sues to get Trump tax returns]

As evidence, the president’s filing cited the state attorney general’s issuing of “several” subpoenas — “some of which are not yet public” — seeking the same information as subpoenas from the House Ways and Means Committee.

Trump also argued against a motion by the state officials to send the case to a federal district court in New York or dismiss it entirely. In the amended complaint, Trump argued the dispute belongs inside the Beltway.

The Ways and Means Committee “will request the President’s tax returns here, New York will send the returns here, the Committee will review the returns here, the Committee will hold hearings (including testimony from New York officials) about the returns here, the Committee will use the returns to draft and consider legislation here, and the Committee will decide whether and how to disclose the returns here,” the amended complaint said.

In this case and others, the Trump administration has argued the committee has no legislative purpose for requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns and eight years from his business. Besides seeking what have been described as voluminous returns, the committee has also asked for all tax information, including auditors’ notes and work papers.

In early July, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law allowing the state to turn over state tax returns to certain congressional committees, including Ways and Means. While the law didn’t mention Trump specifically, its provisions apply only to the president.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, initially said he had no intention of seeking Trump’s state tax returns under the law. Trump’s initial court filing cited a July 22 news story that House counsel was reviewing the law. A spokesman for Neal has said the chairman’s views haven’t changed.

In the suit, Trump said Neal’s request for the president’s tax returns had already been denied at the federal level when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “determined that the request had no legitimate legislative purpose.”

Trump’s suit pointed to Mnuchin’s 40-plus-page compilation of comments from Democrats publicly criticizing the president for not releasing the tax returns, included as part of the Treasury secretary’s April 23 denial of Neal’s request. Trump also pointed to Mnuchin’s conclusion: “The public record demonstrates that the animating purpose of this effort was and remains exposure of a political opponent’s private tax information.”

[Trump: ‘I don’t care’ if House Democrats release my tax returns]

Neal’s stated legislative purpose is to use the president’s tax information as part of an investigation into the IRS’s decades-old practice of annually auditing the president’s tax returns and whether the auditing process should be codified in law. Since the committee’s “jurisdiction is limited to federal taxes, no legislation could possibly result from a request for the President’s state tax returns,” the July 23 filing said.

In a July 25 response, the Ways and Means Committee said Trump’s legal filings “brazenly request that this Court violate the separation of powers” and bar the committee “from even embarking on legislative activity squarely within” its constitutional powers.

District Court Judge Carl Nichols ordered Aug. 1 that New York officials should file a motion to dismiss Trump’s suit for improper venue or lack of personal jurisdiction, which the officials did on Aug. 9. Further, Nichols set an Aug. 19 deadline for Trump’s response to the New York motion and an Aug. 23 deadline for New York to respond to the president’s response. An Aug. 29 hearing on the issue is scheduled.

The judge’s ultimate ruling would determine the path the lawsuit may take, including whether appellate courts in New York or Washington, D.C. would eventually hear the case.

After the July 31 hearing, James, the state attorney general, praised Nichols’ ruling. “This law is constitutional, and we will vigorously defend it,” she said in a statement.

In the Aug. 9 filing, James described the case this way: “a New York tax return filer seeks to challenge the constitutionality of a New York statute governing the treatment of New York tax information, and to enjoin New York officials from taking action under that New York statute.”

“This lawsuit plainly belongs in a New York court,” she concluded.

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