WASHINGTON (CN) — In a hearing riddled with hypothetical questions, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., grappled Wednesday with whether to dismiss New York officials from a lawsuit brought against them and House Democrats by President Donald Trump over attempts to get his state tax returns.
Acting as a private citizen, Trump aims to preemptively block the state officials from handing over his New York tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, calling for a permanent block on the TRUST Act.
Passed by New York lawmakers in May, it 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.
Along with the committee, Trump’s lawsuit targets New York Attorney General Letitia James and Michael Schmidt, commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Both defendants now assert the D.C. district court lacks jurisdiction over the matter, while the president alleges the TRUST Act is a partisan ploy aimed at exposing his private financial information.
But Andrew Amer of the New York Attorney General’s Office rejected a question from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols on Wednesday — one of many the Trump appointee posed as a hypothetical in proceedings — that suggested a conspiracy between the New York and D.C. defendants.
“There is no such thing as conspiracy to enact legislation, your honor,” Amer said.
He added that any party can challenge a state statute as unlawful, but cannot pin “ill motives” to its passage.
The New York defendants argue the president has to challenge the legislation in the Empire State. The mere act of delivering Trump’s state tax returns to the committee, Amer said, does not equate to injury committed against the president by New York officials in Washington.
Trump’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge of Consovoy McCarthy, said the president does not plan to file a second lawsuit in New York district court if Nichols grants the state officials’ motion to dismiss, leaving the Ways and Means Committee to fight the legal battle alone in Washington.
Nichols has repeatedly voiced concern that without a request from the committee for the tax records, the case is not ripe for adjudication. He looked to both parties to convince him why to keep the New York defendants on.
Strawbridge held fast to the argument that the finance commissioner and attorney general are valid defendants because they are responsible for implementing and enforcing the TRUST Act.
The judge asked Strawbridge if Trump was still a citizen of New York, now suing New York officials over a New York statute — deflating the claim that D.C. federal court is the proper venue to challenge the TRUST Act as unconstitutional.
“I don’t want to be put on the spot on that one,” Strawbridge replied, adding that he knows the president remains a big fan of the New York Yankees.
The Trump attorney later said that it did not ultimately matter whether his client remains a New York citizen while residing in the White House.
House attorney Douglas Letter late in the hearing alerted Nichols that he plans to file a separate motion to dismiss by Oct. 21.
Toying with ruling on both motions to dismiss simultaneously, Nichols said, “It is not my intention to simply sit on the [New York] motion.”
Amer said the New York defendants would “vehemently oppose” such a move. To prevent the case from becoming moot, they had agreed in July to defer responding to any committee request in the week following the court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction.
“If that was the ask at the get-go, we certainly would not have agreed to that proposal,” Amer said.
Nichols later agreed that he would rule on the New York motion apart from the upcoming House motion. It is unclear when he will issue a decision.