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. Trump sues to block New York law allowing Congress to get his state taxes:
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 complaint (.pdf) 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 and Finance Commissioner Michael Schmidt from complying with any request for Trump’s tax filings.
This is Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, whose legal experience is as chief counsel at the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), founded by evangelical minister Pat Robertson. ACLJ generally pursues constitutional issues and conservative Christian ideals in courts of law by twisting and contorting First Amendment jurisprudence in ways that the Founding Father’s never contemplated:
¶9. The TRUST Act also violates the First Amendment. As revealed by its text, history, effect, and stated purposes, the New York legislature enacted it to discriminate and retaliate against President Trump for hs speech and politics. This Court should declare it unconstitutional and enjoin its operation. 28 U.S.C. §2201; 42 u.S.C. §1983.
The TRUST Act is not a “private bill” that was “enacted it to discriminate and retaliate against President Trump.” It is meant to be the state companion provision to Section 6103 of the federal tax code, which provides that Treasury officials “shall” turn over the tax returns “upon written request” of the chair of either congressional tax committee or the federal employee who runs Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.
§ 3. Section 202 of the tax law is amended by adding a new subdivision6 to read as follows:
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(B) SUCH PERMISSION SHALL BE GRANTED ONLY IF THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE REQUESTING COMMITTEE CERTIFIES IN WRITING THAT SUCH REPORTS HAVE BEEN REQUESTED FOR A SPECIFIED AND LEGITIMATE LEGISLATIVE PURPOSE, THE REQUESTING COMMITTEE HAS MADE A WRITTEN REQUEST TO THE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY FOR RELATED FEDERAL REPORTS OR REPORT INFORMATION, PURSUANT TO 26 U.S.C. SECTION 6103(F), AND SUCH REPORTS WILL BE INSPECTED AND/OR SUBMITTED TO ANOTHER COMMITTEE, TO THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, OR TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH THE REQUIREMENTS AND PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED IN 26 U.S.C. SECTION 6103(F).
“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.”
So Trump’s lawyers concede that Congress does have oversight over federal tax laws. And Section 6103 of the federal tax code provides that Treasury officials “shall” turn over the tax returns “upon written request” of the chair of either congressional tax committee or the federal employee who runs Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. This applies to any taxpayer tax returns, not just the president.
Moreover, another provision in the federal tax code, Section 7214(a), provides that “Any officer or employee of the United States acting in connection with any revenue law of the United States… who with intent to defeat the application of any provision of this title fails to perform any of the duties of his office or employment… shall be dismissed from office or discharged from employment and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than 5 years or both.”
The president’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement that the lawsuit was filed as part of “our ongoing efforts to end Presidential harassment.”
This is Trump alternative facts for “Congressional oversight.”
“The targeting of the president by the House Ways and Means Committee, the New York Attorney General, and a New York tax official violates article 1 of the US Constitution,” he said. “The harassment tactics lack a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Chairman Neal’s letter to the IRS Commissioner and Treasury Secretary laid out a legitimate legislative purpose, but Section 6103 of the federal tax code does not require a legitimate legislative purpose, only that the appropriate committee has made the request. New York’s TRUST Act, however, does add this requirement for state tax returns.
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 legislation 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.
“I have every confidence that the president’s legal challenge will fail and New York’s standing offer to support Congress in its oversight role on taxes will remain in effect,” New York state Assemblyman David Buchwald, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that the President has moved quickly in an attempt to strike down New York’s tax transparency law as he is fighting the release of his tax returns on every front.”
“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 — not even the president of the United States,” 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. We have all the confidence that this law is legal and we will vigorously defend it against any court challenge.”
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 citing a section of tax law that states the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish” to congressional tax committees “any return or return information” request by its chairman. The stated purpose of Neal’s request is to review the IRS process for auditing presidential returns.
Earlier this month, Neal said House counsel was “reviewing” the [New York] law and had “some legitimate concerns” regarding it.
Well, there you go. Move to dismiss this lawsuit on two grounds: (1) “Ripeness” — Chairman Neal has not requested the New York state tax returns — “a claim is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all”; and (2) “Standing” — “the requirement that a plaintiff must have sustained or will sustain direct injury or harm and that this harm is redressable.” Unless and until Chairman Neal actually requests the New York state tax returns, this claim is premature and purely speculative.
Donald Trump broke with decades of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns while running for the presidency, claiming he was under audit. Such an audit does not preclude him from releasing the returns. A president’s returns undergo IRS audits annually — the stated purpose of chairman Neal’s request — and the president is a public servant subject to congressional oversight, not a private citizen. Trump’s tax returns as president ought to be a public record, as all previous presidents tax returns have been since Richard Nixon.