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Trump Could Be Forced to Disclose Tax Returns Under Proposed NY Laws

Sen. Brad Hoylman. Photo: NYCDOT/flickr

Legislation being considered in New York could provide a key for disclosure of at least some of President Donald Trump's tax returns.

Trump, citing concerns over audits, has chosen to keep his federal tax documents private since his entrance into politics nearly four years ago. Since Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, they have begun efforts to surface those returns.

On Monday, New York state lawmakers in Albany pushed for two bills that would accomplish that goal: one that would allow congressional committees to request the president’s tax returns from the state Department of Taxation and Finance and another that would direct the agency to publicly release the tax returns of statewide candidates in New York.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, sponsors both and also carried a previous bill that would have required statewide candidates for office to publicly disclose their tax filings. The more recent legislation from Hoylman appears to take that action out of the president’s hands and instead give power to the state to release those documents.

The first bill, which Hoylman introduced on Monday, would amend the state tax law to create a sort-of fail-safe for Democrats in Congress to obtain Trump’s state tax returns if their efforts on the national level fail. The legislation would allow the chairpersons of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation to request those returns if they’ve already tried to obtain them from the U.S. Treasury Department.

“This new bill will permit New York State to comply with requests from congressional investigative committees and help ensure Congress can’t be blocked in their attempts to hold even the highest elected officials in the land accountable to the American people,” Hoylman said in a press release on the legislation.

The bill comes after House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, formally requested six years of Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service last week. Neal said federal law should allow him to obtain those documents.

“We have completed the necessary groundwork for a request of this magnitude and I am certain we are within our legitimate legislative, legal, and oversight rights,” Neal said.

Hoylman’s legislation, if passed, would allow Neal to request Trump’s tax returns from New York now that he’s asked the IRS, a bureau of the Treasury Department, for those documents.

But there are a few safeguards attached to such a request to prevent abuse of the proposed statute. For one, the chairperson making the request would have to state a specified and legitimate legislative purpose for obtaining the tax returns. The members of those committees also wouldn’t be allowed to discuss those documents publicly, only behind closed doors, according to the legislation.

The legislation has the endorsement of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler, who could in the coming weeks subpoena the U.S. Department of Justice for the full report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, said the bill would provide more oversight of the president’s financial history with some help from the state.

“Congress is a co-equal branch of government. It is critical that to maintain trust in our government and uphold the rule of law, that we in Congress must be able to perform oversight over the executive branch,” Nadler said. “This legislation would make the work of a federal committee a little easier, if confronted with the inability to receive the federal tax return, we can turn to New York State.”

The second bill, called the Tax Returns Uphold Transparency and Honesty Act, or TRUTH Act, would direct the state Tax Department to release the tax returns of statewide elected officials, including the president, almost immediately after it becomes law. The agency would have to release the last five years of those returns for each statewide elected official: president, vice president, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state comptroller, and the state’s two U.S. senators.

Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-Westchester, sponsors the bill in the Assembly and rallied with Hoylman and other lawmakers on Monday to push for the bill’s passage. He argued that lawmakers in New York should pass the bill now since members of Congress could face years of litigation trying to get Trump’s tax returns before there’s any tangible result.

If lawmakers in New York pass the TRUTH Act now, Buchwald said, members of Congress would have access to Trump’s state tax returns for the last five years almost immediately. The bill directs the state to release those returns within a month of it becoming law.

“Tax returns can be a true window on what really affect someone's bottom line. You don’t have to take their word for it. They’re signed under penalty of perjury,” Buchwald said. “The fact that the president is not willing and repeatedly is not willing to make these returns public gives me strong confidence that he is hiding something.”

There’s also a third bill sponsored by Hoylman that would require Trump’s tax returns to be released publicly, but not until next year. The legislation would require that any candidate running for statewide office in New York publicly disclose their tax returns in order to be on the ballot. That would force Trump to disclose those documents ahead of the 2020 election.

Hoylman said on Monday that he would like to see each of the bills become law, but that he didn’t care which one it ends up being, as long as Democrats achieve the goal of reviewing Trump’s tax returns to some capacity.

“I don’t care how we get it done, frankly,” Hoylman said. “I want the route that is most politically feasible, which I’m sure is the one the Legislature will follow in our collective wisdom.”

Edward Cox, chairman of the New York State Republican Party, criticized the attempts by Democrats to obtain Trump’s tax returns during a radio interview on Monday. When asked what he thought of the efforts, he offered a diagnosis to state lawmakers opposite his party.

“Democrats who control the state Legislature, along with the governor, have been afflicted by Trump derangement syndrome,” Cox said. “Instead of doing the people's business here in New York, they’re going down the same rat hole that 16 Republicans did, that Hillary Clinton did, that a whole slew of commentators did in respect to collusion, obstruction.”

A senior advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo also appeared to caution Democrats on their efforts to force Trump's tax returns to be disclosed on Monday afternoon. Cuomo has not endorsed any of Hoylman's three bills, though he has previously called on Trump to publicly release his tax documents.

"Transparency and disclosure is vital, but tax return privacy is also important and we should not politicize the process -- however Governor Cuomo believes elected officials on all levels should be prepared to release their taxes if they enter public service and he would include state and local, as well as federal officials, in any legal revision," Senior Advisor Richard Azzopardi said.

Lawmakers could pass any of the three bills until they’re scheduled to leave Albany in June.

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