ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Passing legislation that will allow members of Congress to obtain New York state tax filings, state lawmakers brought Democrats one step closer Wednesday to accessing financial data that the president has kept hidden.
Part of a two-bill package, the legislation adopted 84-53 this morning by the New York Assembly authorizes state tax officials to release the returns filed by federal, state and local lawmakers, as well as political party leaders, after being requested to do so by any of three congressional committees: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
The vote was largely along party lines, and debate by lawmakers was marked largely by partisan comments.
The New York Legislature opted to amend its laws over the weekend to address longstanding claims by White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that Democrats will “never” see Trump’s tax returns. Just this morning meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced a pummeling at the House amid new reporting on IRS policy that describes the obligation to disclose tax returns to Congress as “mandatory.”
The Washington Post first disclosed the confidential IRS memo Tuesday night, reporting that it requires the president to turn over his tax records unless executive privilege is invoked.
Federal tax law “does not allow the secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met,” according to the memo. It also says “the only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”
Trump brought a lawsuit last month to block the subpoena of his accountants, but a federal judge in the case rejected the president’s claims on Monday, ordering Mazars USA LLP to comply with the subpoena by next week.
Trump’s state tax returns likely would include much of the same information as his federal returns. The second bill that New York lawmakers approved Wednesday in an 85-49 vote says the state will produce tax filings requested for any “legitimate Congressional task.”
During debate at the Capitol, Assemblyman David Buchwald said individuals have no constitutional right to keep their tax returns private, and that congressional committees have no duty to notify them if their tax filings are requested.
“It’s not considered unfair, it’s considered the process of investigating,” said Buchwald, a Westchester Democrat.
Buchwald noted that notice is also not required for federal tax filings. “That’s the nature of things,” he said.
Criticism of the bill largely turned on privacy concerns.
“This information is highly confidential and proprietary,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, a Republican who represents Jamestown. “Our job is to protect New Yorkers. … This bill is not designed to advance New Yorkers’ interests. It’s designed solely for political headlines on a national state.”
The argument was not unique to Republicans.
“We are traveling down a path that we should not be traveling down,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat. “No legislature should craft legislation for political reasons just to get a few people they consider their enemies.”
When the state Senate passed the bill earlier this month, Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said that Republicans seeking to block the bill were “protecting President Trump.”
Gianaris continued: “They want to go after criminals, but not when it’s someone in this administration.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the legislation.
Many Republicans have derided the bill as overbroad and dangerous, with recently ousted state Republican Party Chairman Edward Cox calling it an example of “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Republican Assemblywoman Beth Walsh warned Tuesday that the bill defines politicians too loosely, potentially ensnaring school board members and other local elected officials. “I don’t know how far down it goes, but it’s still a lot of people,” said Walsh, who represents Ballston Spa.
Still others suggested that the bills could have gone farther, requiring any candidate in New York state to make their tax filings public before running for state or federal office. “We could lead an example for the rest of the country,” said Assemblyman Mark Johns, a Fairport Republican.
Presidents over the last several administrations have turned over their tax records, and many more presidential candidates also have done so in the spirit of transparency. President Trump has made various promises to do the same, but has kept his returns secret so far.
Despite the secrecy, leaked tax filings analyzed by The New York Times showed the president reporting more than $1 billion in business losses from 1985 through 1994. The president tweeted that the Times report was “fake news” but also claimed that taking such massive tax write-offs was “sport” for real estate developers during those decades.