House Democrats ask judge to dismiss Trump lawsuit over NY tax return law

House Democrats on Monday urged a federal judge to dismiss them from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE’s lawsuit challenging a New York law that allows congressional committees to request his state tax returns.

The Democrat-led Ways and Means Committee, Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge sides with NY officials in Trump tax return lawsuit On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (D-Mass.) and committee aide Andrew Grossman — who are all named as defendants in the lawsuit — argued that Trump hasn’t been harmed by them and that they are immune from the lawsuit under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause.

The House’s lawyers noted that the Ways and Means Committee is participating in the House’s impeachment inquiry of Trump, and that the committee’s deliberations related to any actions it could take as part of that inquiry are protected from a legal challenge.

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“As relevant here, the Committee could at some point decide to seek information under the [New York law] in connection with this impeachment inquiry,” the House’s lawyers wrote. “This inquiry, and any deliberation concerning any actions the Committee could potentially take in aid of it, underscores the reasons that the Clause provides absolute immunity for the Committee Defendants’ decision-making and related acts here.”  

New York enacted a law in July, known as the TRUST Act, that allows the leaders of Congress’s tax committees to request public officials’ state tax returns from the commissioner of the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance. 

Shortly after the bill’s enactment, Trump filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the committee from obtaining his New York tax returns. Trump alleges that the committee has no legitimate legislative purpose to request his state tax returns, and that the New York law violates the First Amendment.

Neal has not yet requested Trump’s state tax returns, and has been more focused on trying to obtain the president’s federal tax returns. The Democrats’ filing states that the Ways and Means Committee hasn’t yet decided whether or not it will request Trump’s state tax returns.

In their filing, the committee defendants argued that Trump doesn’t have standing to sue because he hasn’t provided an injury that pertains to them, and that Trump’s case is not yet ripe.

“Mr. Trump’s claim is far too abstract and speculative to warrant judicial intervention at this juncture,” the House’s lawyers wrote.

Additionally, the committee defendants argued that the deliberations about whether to request Trump’s state tax returns are protected from a legal challenge under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause. The House’s lawyers argue that the deliberations are a legislative act protected by the clause, and that the clause also protects Congress’s deliberative processes with respect to impeachment.

The committee defendants also argue that Trump has failed to state a claim against them.

“At bottom, the relief Mr. Trump seeks in this case is as brazen as it is extreme,” they said. “In the absence of any injury to him now, and admitting that a request by the Committee Defendants by itself will never harm him, Mr. Trump nonetheless asks this Court to invade the Committee’s ongoing deliberations concerning whether and how to gather information for its work.”

At a court hearing in September, House General Counsel Douglas Letter said that if the committee defendants lose their motion to dismiss on speech or debate clause grounds, they can immediately appeal the decision.

New York officials who are defendants in the lawsuit, Attorney General Letitia James (D) and state tax official Michael Schmidt, filed their own motion to dismiss the lawsuit in August, arguing that the lawsuit doesn’t belong in federal court in Washington, D.C. Trump disagrees and argues that the federal court in D.C. does have jurisdiction over the New York officials.

Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, heard oral arguments on the New York officials’ motion in September, but has yet to issue a ruling. Under an order Nichols issued in August, the New York officials can’t provide any requested Trump tax returns to the Ways and Means Committee until one week after Nichols rules on the New York officials’ motion.