A federal judge on Monday dodged a decision for now over whether congressional Democrats can request and receive the President’s New York state tax returns by asking the parties to figure out a solution themselves.
US District Court Judge Carl Nichols acknowledged President Donald Trump’s concerns that his New York state tax returns could be requested and provided before the courts have time to consider constitutional and other legal issues with the request.
But he also gave a nod to arguments from the House Ways and Means Committee, and the state of New York, about what type of review from the courts is even appropriate in the circumstances.
So Nichols ordered attorneys for the three parties to meet and propose a solution by 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
He was particularly critical of the committee’s insistence that it had an absolute right to make the requests.
“Defendants are unwilling to do anything other than to squeeze this into a very narrow aperture,” he said.
Rather than issue an order himself, Nichols directed the parties to use their “creativity” to reach an agreement that would delay the returns from being requested or provided.
He suggested the parties could remove him from an “awkward” situation – being asked to consider the consequences of a potential House request, which has not yet been made.
Douglas Letter, an attorney for the House committee, argued the House has an absolute right to request the tax records that cannot be challenged in court – particularly given that there are “conceivable” justifications for requesting the records. For example, he said, the committee could use them to review federal tax auditing law.
Nichols did not buy that argument for sweeping congressional authority because without an actual request, it is impossible to determine if the actual reasoning is legitimate, he said.
“You’re asking me to not grant the writ because I don’t have jurisdiction,” Nichols told Letter. “But I can’t know that.”
Nichols replied later that the Constitution gives Congress wide latitude because the “framers did not intend the judiciary to be able to haul in Congress for rulings we do not want.”
Attorney William Consovoy argued for the President that the returns could be requested and received without Trump even having an opportunity to intervene.
While Consovoy’s initial request was that the court block the House from requesting the records, he allowed that under the law it may be more appropriate for the court to block New York from providing the returns.
That prospect drew Andrew Amer, the attorney representing New York’s attorney general and tax commissioner, from the sidelines of what had been arguments between the President and committee.
He said his clients were unlikely to concede that the Washington-based federal court had the jurisdiction to decide a matter of New York state law.