Donald Trump has quite a few lawyers, but part of his legal team has a very specific task: keeping the president’s personal finances hidden. With this in mind, Trump’s attorneys have gone to extraordinary lengths in recent months to meet their client’s needs, mostly by fighting against congressional efforts to obtain the federal tax returns the president doesn’t want anyone to see.
But the overall fight isn’t limited to Congress. State policymakers in New York, Trump’s longtime home, recently approved a law that would extend access to the president’s state tax returns to select federal lawmakers. To date, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity – a development that’s frustrated more than a few progressives.
The mere possibility, however, has nevertheless led Trump’s lawyers to go back to court, filing a new lawsuit yesterday intended to block enforcement of the newly passed New York law and prevent anyone on Capitol Hill from seeing the president’s state tax returns.
The suit asks the court to provide a declaratory judgment that the committee “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose for obtaining the President’s state tax information.”
The lawsuit asserts that the law, called the TRUST Act, violates Trump’s First Amendment rights. It seeks to block the Ways and Means Committee from being able to request the taxes through the law, prevent New York Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing it, and stop New York Department of Taxation and Finance Commissioner Michael Schmidt from complying with any request for Trump’s tax filings.
Even by Trump World standards, it’s difficult to take the lawsuit seriously. As Jon Chait noted last night, “Reading over the document, it is astonishing to believe its authors attended law school. It should be written in crayon.”
The president’s lawyers argue, for example, that Trump hid his tax returns before the 2016 election; he won anyway; and he’s therefore earned the right to keep his financial materials hidden from scrutiny. Whether one finds this political argument persuasive or not, it’s just that: a political argument.
As a rule, legal filings written by lawyers try to make legal arguments.
The First Amendment claim is even more baffling. Hiding tax materials is directly related to the president’s right to free speech?
Chances are, lawsuits like these are not designed to succeed; they’re designed to delay. The longer Trump’s lawyers can keep legal proceedings going, the better the likelihood that the Republican can get through the 2020 campaign cycle without having to disclose elements of his personal financial history (as every major-party presidential nominee has done since Watergate).
But the fact that these strange efforts are even underway reinforces the fact that Trump is obviously desperate to prevent the public from learning the truth.
All of which raises anew the question of what the president is so zealously trying to hide.