Judge Punts Trump Suit Over NY Tax-Return Law to New Judge

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before the House Committee on Financial Services on Wednesday. Behind the secretary, a graphic recounts various instances when President Donald Trump promised to disclose the tax returns that to date remain shrouded in secrecy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge overseeing Congress’ effort to see President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns declined to get involved in a lawsuit Trump filed as a private citizen this week to keep the House Ways and Means Committee from getting his state tax returns.

“I simply think there is a very different state of play,” U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said Thursday, unconvinced by Trump’s attorney William Consovoy that the two cases are related. He ordered Trump’s case reassigned to a different judge.

Trump filed his lawsuit Tuesday claiming the TRUST Act passed by New York lawmakers in May was a stratagem to assist the House Ways and Means Committee.

The law authorizes state tax officials to release returns filed by lawmakers and political party leaders in response to requests from three congressional committees, including House Ways and Means.

Trump seeks a permanent block on enforcement of the TRUST Act, noting the law also requires the release of the president’s state tax returns “if the committee has already requested the president’s federal returns” from the Treasury Department

“The hyper-specific condition was, not coincidentally, already satisfied for the intended target of the act: President Trump,” the lawsuit states.

Arguing this same underlying motive to target Trump links the two cases, Consovoy said both the House committee and New York Legislature lack legitimate legislative purpose to pursue the president’s returns.

“The rules do not require perfect symmetry for related cases,” Consovoy said when McFadden pointed out that one involves a state statute, the other congressional authority to gather information.

McFadden rejected Consovoy’s argument, also noting that in one case the committee is the plaintiff and in the other the defendant.

The House took no position on whether the cases were related. Instead, attorney Todd Tatelman took the opportunity to accuse President Trump of violating the Constitution.

Tatelman said the congressional body is “immunized” from being dragged into court by the president.

“Your view is it would act as a shield against impermissible motives, is that correct?” McFadden said.

Tatelman agreed, adding “legislative purpose” is a broadly defined term that includes floor speeches, committee hearings and information gathering.

Earlier Thursday, the House filed a motion calling on the court to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit as meritless, arguing as Tatelman did that Article I of the Constitution acts as an  “absolute bar to interference” by the judiciary in any congressional activity.

“Mr. Trump’s complaint and his emergency application brazenly request that this court violate the separation of powers and enjoin the Ways and Means Committee from even embarking on legislative activity squarely within its Article I powers,” the motion states.

McFadden did not address the House motion, leaving it to be decided on by the federal judge who will take over the case.

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