WASHINGTON – If the president wants to challenge a New York state law, let him do it on New York’s turf.
That’s what lawyers for the state told a federal judge in Washington on Wednesday in a hearing on Donald Trump’s suit over a law that could allow House Democrats to get his state tax returns.
“It is improper for this court sitting in D.C. to exercise authority over elected officials sued only in their official capacity,” said Andrew Amer, a lawyer for New York Attorney General Letitia James and the commissioner of the state’s revenue department.
The hearing marks the second time the president has tried to put the dispute before a judge in Washington whom he named to the bench. After the Trump appointee who initially got the case punted, it landed through random lottery with a second Trump appointee, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols.
New York and Trump are sparring over the TRUST Act, a state law passed in July that would allow the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee to ask for Trump’s New York tax returns. Lawyers for the state argued that the president can’t sue in Washington over a law and officials that are both out of state.
Patrick Strawbridge, an attorney for Trump, said Washington is an appropriate venue because the decision to ask for the documents would be made in Washington and the returns would be reviewed by lawmakers in the nation’s capital, even though the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance would be producing the tax returns.
“The statute takes two partners to tango,” Strawbridge said.
The hearing had its memorable moments. Nichols asked Amer if it could be considered conspiracy if House Democrats and New York state lawmakers had an express agreement for the state to pass a law granting Congress access to state tax information.
“There is no such thing as conspiracy to pass legislation, your honor,” Amer said.
Trump’s lawyers say the case should be brought where the president and his attorneys are. In court, Nichols asked whether the president is still a New York citizen. Strawbridge said he didn’t know.
“I know he remains a big Yankees fan,” he added.
Strawbridge also argued that someone from New York might have to come to Washington to explain the tax papers to the committee.
The law permits a chairman of one of three congressional committees to ask for the state tax documents of New York residents who serve as public officials. In another case that’s being litigated, House Democrats have been trying to obtain six years of Trump’s personal and business federal tax returns since April, using authority granted in the U.S. tax code.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, the only Democrat with the authority to ask for the documents, hasn’t yet requested them from the state. New York must notify Nichols if it receives a request and must wait at least seven days before sending the documents to give him time to rule on a request to block them.
Nichols said he would soon announce a decision on New York’s motion to dismiss the state as a defendant. Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the Ways and Means Committee, which is also named, said it would file a motion next month to dismiss the suit.
Because the New York and federal tax return cases could stretch on for months or longer, Trump’s financial information might not become public before the November 2020 presidential election, if ever.
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).