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Trump sues House Ways and Means panel to block disclosure of his tax returns

Key Points
  • President Trump filed a lawsuit against the House Ways and Means Committee as well as New York state's attorney general and its tax chief to block the disclosure of years of his tax returns.
  • The president's lawsuit came less than a month after the Ways and Means Committee sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to obtain Trump's federal returns. Trump's new legal action intervenes in that suit.
  • Trump has refused to show his tax documents, despite a longstanding tradition among modern presidential candidates to disclose their returns.
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after arriving at Pitt-Greenville Airport before heading to a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, North Carolina, July 17, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Donald Trump on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee, as well as New York state's attorney general and its tax chief, to block the disclosure of years of his tax returns.

The president's lawsuit, which was filed "in his capacity as a private citizen," came less than a month after the Ways and Means Committee sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to obtain Trump's federal returns.

Trump's new legal action intervenes in that suit, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Trump's lawyers argue that the House panel "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose" to use a recently passed New York state law to get Trump's returns. They also claim that state law violated the president's First Amendment rights, because it was enacted to "discriminate and retaliate against President Trump for his speech and politics."

"We have filed a lawsuit today in our ongoing efforts to end Presidential harassment," said Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, in a statement. "The actions taken by the House and New York officials are nothing more than political retribution."

Trump has refused to show his tax documents before or after winning the 2016 presidential election, despite a longstanding tradition among modern presidential candidates to disclose their returns.

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The saga of Trump's taxes

In May, New York's Senate passed a bill, dubbed the TRUST Act, that provided a path for Congress to get years of Trump's state tax returns.

But Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., the only Democrat empowered to make the request for those state returns, has so far refused to do so.

Bloomberg News reported that Neal believed aiming his sights on the state returns might give fodder to the Trump administration's claim that Congress has no "legitimate legislative purpose" to peek at Trump's personal finances. Rather, Neal reportedly thought, it would appear as though the documents were being targeted for political reasons.

But Trump's lawsuit argues that Neal "is facing intense pressure from his fellow Democrats to invoke the TRUST Act and obtain the President's state tax returns."

"Succumbing to this pressure, the Chairman recently announced that he does not oppose using the TRUST Act and that House counsel was 'reviewing' it now," the complaint says.

"That review could end—and Chairman Neal could decide to request the President's state returns—at any time, with no notice to the President. And New York could respond to the request nearly instantaneously, mooting the President's ability to object before his tax records are disclosed," the document says.

"President Trump was thus forced to bring this lawsuit to safeguard his legal rights."

A spokeswoman for Neal did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

"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," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

Michael R. Schmidt, commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, was also named in the suit.

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Trump: My taxes are under continuous audit

"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," James said.

Ways and Means filed suit against Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS chief Charles Rettig on July 2.

The two officials and their departments had defied the federal tax code, the House panel argued, by refusing a congressional request to give up years of Trump's personal and business returns.

That law, Section 6103(f), states that the Treasury "shall furnish" an individual's returns if a formal request is made.

The committee argued that Trump's returns were crucial in order to "conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS, and the tax laws on behalf of the American people who participate in the Nation's voluntary tax system."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who has long been the Ways and Means Committee's most vocal proponent of Congress obtaining Trump's taxes, said in a statement that the president's intervention is "a pathetic stunt, not worth the forms it's printed on, and should be laughed out of court."

"First Congress was forced to sue this administration to conduct oversight of corruption. Now Trump is suing Congress to block that oversight," Pascrell said.

Read Trump's legal complaint below: