WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday sued to block a U.S. House of Representatives committee from obtaining his New York state tax returns, with his lawyer accusing the Democratic-controlled panel of "presidential harassment."
In a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Trump's lawyers argued that a law passed by New York state earlier this month that would give the House Ways and Means Committee access to the president's state tax returns violates his constitutional rights.
New York's law "was enacted to retaliate against the President because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016 campaign," the filing said.
It cited a media report that the House panel's chairman, Democratic Representative Richard Neal, is mulling making a request under the law, which New York could nearly instantaneously fulfill. "President Trump was thus forced to bring this lawsuit to safeguard his legal rights," his lawyers wrote.
A spokeswoman for the committee did not respond to a request for comment.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement she was confident the state's law was legal. "We will vigorously defend it against any court challenge," she said.
A lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, called the effort to obtain Trump's state tax returns "presidential harassment" and accused the House committee and New York state officials of seeking "political retribution" against Trump.
Traditionally, U.S. presidential candidates have released their federal tax returns on the campaign trail. But Trump has repeatedly refused to do so, citing audits.
The House committee has sought Trump's federal returns to shed light on his business dealings.
The Treasury Department has denied the committee's request, despite a federal law that says the department "shall furnish" such records to the panel if requested. The Treasury Department said the committee had no legitimate purpose for reviewing Trump's returns.
The committee filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking to compel the department to hand over six years of Trump's individual and business federal tax returns.
Neal has expressed caution about using the New York law to obtain Trump's state returns, saying it could harm efforts to get the president's federal returns through the lawsuit.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; editing by Tom Brown and Jonathan Oatis)