Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns

A federal judge on Monday granted President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE "very limited relief" in his legal case aimed at preventing House Democrats from obtaining his New York state tax returns.

Judge Carl Nichols, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., appointed by Trump, ordered the House Ways and Means Committee to provide the court and Trump with contemporaneous notice if committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices MORE (D-Mass.) requests Trump's state tax returns under a New York law. Nichols also ordered the committee to not receive any requested state tax returns for a period of 14 days, during which time the court could decide whether the request is lawful.

"In the Court’s view, this relief ensures that Mr. Trump has an opportunity to press his claims before they become moot while treading as lightly as possible on the Congressional Defendants’ interests," Nichols wrote.

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Neal has not yet decided whether he will request Trump’s state tax returns, according to the House’s lawyers. The Ways and Means chair has been more focused on trying to obtain Trump’s federal tax returns from the IRS.

Trump filed a lawsuit in July in his personal capacity in an effort to prevent House Democrats from obtaining his New York returns. He filed the lawsuit shortly after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a law that allows the chairs of Congress’s tax committees to request public officials’ state tax returns from the New York Department of Taxation and Finance.

In August, Nichols ordered New York officials not to provide any requested Trump tax returns to House Democrats until one week after he ruled on their motion to be dismissed from the case. Nichols issued a ruling dismissing the New York officials from the case on Nov. 11, meaning that agreement was set to expire Monday. The case is still pending against the Ways and Means Committee, Neal and a committee aide.

Trump’s lawyers last week asked Nichols to grant the president emergency relief. They called on the judge either to order the committee to give at least two weeks notice before requesting Trump’s state tax returns or to order the New York officials to give notice when the committee makes a request and then wait at least two weeks before complying with it.

But the House’s lawyers asked Nichols to deny Trump’s motion and dismiss his lawsuit. They argued that Trump isn’t suffering any harm and that the House is immune from the lawsuit under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause.

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At a hearing on Monday, a lawyer for the House, Josephine Morse, said that if a request for Trump’s state tax returns is made while the case is still pending, the Ways and Means Committee could notify the court at that time.

In a court document filed several hours after the hearing, the House’s lawyers said that if Nichols grants their motion to dismiss and Neal subsequently requests Trump’s New York returns during this Congress, they would notify the court and Trump that a request has been made. 

In his ruling, Nichols recognized the House's willingness to provide notice at the time Neal makes any request, but he said that such notice alone wouldn't be enough to prevent Trump's claims from potentially becoming moot. That led Nichols to also order the congressional defendants to not receive requested returns for a two-week period after they make the request.

Nichols said he wasn't going to prevent Neal from requesting Trump's New York tax returns or require him to provide advance notice, in light of the House's concerns about separation of powers and the speech or debate clause. 

Nichols said that whether the congressional defendants will have immunity under the speech or debate clause for a request of Trump's state tax returns will depend on the legislative purpose behind any request. 

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"Because the Congressional Defendants obviously have not attempted to justify a request that has not yet been made ... the Court is unable to conclude, one way or the other, whether the Congressional Defendants would be entitled to Speech or Debate Clause immunity," Nichols wrote.

And Nichols said that "there is a sufficiently substantial risk that future harm could occur to warrant limited relief" for Trump. 

When Nichols dismissed the New York officials from the case, he suggested that Trump could refile those claims in a court in New York.

A lawyer for Trump, William Consovoy, said that it is Trump’s “present intent” not to seek claims against the New York officials.

“We do think we have a proper claim against the committee here,” he said, arguing that he thinks Trump’s strongest legal argument is that the Ways and Means Committee would lack a legitimate legislative purpose for requesting Trump’s New York tax returns.