ALBANY — In an attempt to work around the White House, Democratic lawmakers in Albany are trying to do what their federal counterparts have so far failed to accomplish: to obtain President Trump’s tax returns.
Albany lawmakers are seeking state tax returns, not the federal ones at the heart of the current standoff in Washington. But a tax return from New York — the president’s home state, and the headquarters of his business empire — could likely contain much of the same financial information as a federal return.
Under a bill that is scheduled to be introduced this week, the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance would be permitted to release any state tax return requested by leaders of three congressional committees for any “specific and legitimate legislative purpose.”
The bill is the most recent proposal from New York lawmakers trying to cast light on the president’s personal finances and business dealings, but it could also open the Democratic majorities in the Legislature to charges of politicizing state law to embarrass the president ahead of his expected re-election campaign.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring the legislation, defended the bill, saying it is designed to be “a safety valve for any attempt by the White House to block the Congress from doing this at the federal level.”
“We’re creating a parallel track,” Senator Hoylman added.
The bill would amend current state laws that generally prohibit such private tax information from being released, and would cover a broad range of filings, including personal income taxes, corporation taxes and real estate transfer taxes.
The bill’s expected introduction on Monday comes even as the I.R.S. and Treasury Department in Washington are deciding whether to comply with a request last week from the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, for access under a provision of the federal tax code to six years of his federal returns by April 10.
Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer called the effort by Mr. Neal a “gross abuse of power” — an opinion that was seconded by the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who said on Sunday that Democrats would “never” see the president’s tax returns. It remains unclear if the federal tax collecting agencies will share that view.
But with New York having a Democratic-controlled Legislature, and a Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, some officials see a route to bypassing such arguments. And Mr. Hoylman said he anticipates broad support for the congressional-request bill among lawmakers in New York, one of the nation’s bluest states.
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat who has repeatedly criticized Mr. Trump, did not respond to requests for comment about the bills seeking the release of state tax returns. The White House declined to comment on the proposal.
Republican leaders were furious at the idea that New York officials would potentially allow Democrat-led committees to see the returns.
“This is a bill of attainder, aimed at one person,” said Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York State Republican Party, adding that the maneuver was “outrageous politics,” aimed at increasing Mr. Cuomo’s political prospects.
Still, it was not clear whether the leaders of the State Senate or the State Assembly would immediately embrace such a bill; similar measures stalled in the Assembly during the last legislative session.
Mr. Hoylman said he believes the new bill’s narrow focus may ease concerns about the mass release of personal information about political figures that had caused other legislative attempts in Albany to force the release of Mr. Trump’s taxes to be sidelined. Previous efforts had also faced opposition from Republicans in the State Senate, who lost their majority in that chamber after a disastrous 2018 election cycle.
Under the new proposal, the release of tax information would require a formal request by a congressional committee, and would come only after other efforts to obtain federal tax information through the Treasury Department had failed.
Mr. Hoylman’s bill is one of at least three proposed in recent years that seek the release of Mr. Trump’s state tax returns, including legislation that he co-sponsored with Assemblyman David Buchwald, a Westchester County Democrat.
That earlier bill, known as the New York Truth Act, would require the state Department of Taxation and Finance to release five years of income tax returns from eight officials (if they earn income in New York): the president; vice president; New York’s two United States senators; and four statewide elected officials, including the governor and the state attorney general.
Most of those officials currently release or give access to their tax returns, but Mr. Buchwald said the Truth Act bill is the “most tangible, best opportunity to produce the president’s tax return.”
“Obviously, when someone fills one of these higher offices, they have to meet a higher standard,” Mr. Buchwald said, adding that such state returns would reveal “worldwide income” as well as potential conflicts of interest.
“I think it’s a good general principle for us to be promoting,” Mr. Buchwald said. The bill, first introduced in 2017, now has enough co-sponsors to pass the Assembly and Senate.
A third bill, also sponsored by Mr. Hoylman, would require candidates for president and vice president to reveal their past tax returns in order to appear on primary and general election ballots. Similar efforts are also being considered in more than a dozen other states, including California and New Jersey.
Daniel Hemel, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago who teaches tax law, said that the New York state Legislature could authorize the release of Mr. Trump’s state returns, but that knotty legal issues are at play as well, particularly because of federal laws protecting tax information. For instance, if New York were to release federal return information that is contained within the state tax return, Mr. Hemel said, the Internal Revenue Service “could conceivably cease cooperation with the state.”
Still, Mr. Hemel added, the I.R.S. would face “legal and practical obstacles if it tried to retaliate against New York,” and that “there is a lot of information on Trump’s state tax return that is not federal return information,” including New York’s adjusted gross income and his state taxes.
Under the bill to be introduced on Monday, the chairperson of three committees — the Senate Finance Committee; the House Ways and Means Committee; and the Joint Committee on Taxation — could request tax returns from the New York tax department.
Each would have to submit written requests for the information, and such requests would also have to follow a request to the United States Department of Treasury.
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that Mr. Hoylman’s bill was a way to access the same information that his colleagues in Congress have been seeking.
“The state return, presumably, has to match the federal return,” he said, adding, “It just makes the work of the federal committee, that has a legitimate reason to look into this, a little easier to see the complete picture.”
He added that the bill would be “a pretty quick” workaround to White House opposition to releasing the president’s tax returns. “It would help vindicate the rule of law,” Mr. Nadler said.
Mr. Cuomo, who gives the media access to his annual tax returns every April (though he does not allow reporters to make copies), has expressed support for the increased release of such information by candidates for statewide and legislative office. But a proposal to do just that was not included in the final budget negotiations.
Mr. Hoylman said that the bill to be introduced on Monday was narrowly crafted to prevent “fishing expeditions” by federal lawmakers.
“This would be a very rare, but very important, use of the state’s power,” he said.
The New York state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it easier for Congress to obtain President Donald Trump's state tax returns, advancing a bill that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign if it reached his desk.
The bill, called the TRUST Act, passed by an 39 to 21 vote. The bill would amend state law to permit the state Department of Taxation and Finance commissioner to release any state tax return requested by the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation for any "specific and legitimate legislative purpose." Existing laws generally prohibit such a release.
Those congressional committees would have to file a request with the state only after efforts to gain access to federal tax filings through the Treasury Department failed.
The bill would only apply to Trump's state returns and not the federal ones currently at the center of a battle between the House and the Treasury Department. But those returns would provide a trove of information as New York serves as the headquarters of the president's business and which has served as his home.
Though the legislation would only apply to the president's state returns and not the federal ones currently at the center of a Washington battle, the tax filings are likely to contain much of the same information congressional lawmakers are seeking from his federal returns.
"Donald Trump has broken 40 years of political tradition by not releasing his tax returns," Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. "Now, his administration is precipitating a constitutional crisis by shielding the president from congressional oversight over those returns. Our system of checks and balances is failing. New York has a special role and responsibility to step into the breach."
"I look forward to seeing the bill pass both houses, and reach the Governor’s desk for a signature," he added. "We must ensure that Congress can’t be blocked in their attempts to hold even the highest elected officials in the land accountable to the American people."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the bill "is a workaround to a White House that continues to obstruct and stonewall the legitimate oversight work of Congress."
"The state return should generally match the federal return and obtaining it from New York State will enable us in Congress to perform our oversight function and maintain the rule of law," he added.
Speaking from the Senate floor on Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Frederick Akshar said "everyday taxpayers are not amused" by the legislative efforts.
"If you want to push back on the president, if you want to raise hell with the president, go ahead," he said. "Run for a House seat. Run for the United States Senate."
Both the state Senate and state Assembly, where the bill was advanced too, are under Democratic control, as is the governor's mansion. Last month, in an interview with WAMC, Cuomo said he supported the bill so long as it applies to any official elected in the state.
But Ed Cox, chairman of the New York Republican Party, told NBC News last month that the bill was clearly aimed at the president himself "with the purpose of re-litigating the 2016 campaign in which the people of the United States knew that he had not released his tax returns and they still elected him president of the United States."
The advancement of the bill comes as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday rejected House Democrats’ request for Trump's federal returns, again missing a congressional deadline to turn over the documents. House Democrats are now faced with pursuing a legal battle with the Treasury Department to obtain the tax information.
Federal law gives three Congressional tax committees the unqualified right to obtain and review the otherwise confidential federal tax information of any taxpayer from the Treasury Department.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
Additionally, the state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against individuals pardoned by the president. New York Attorney General Letitia James and Cuomo both endorsed that legislative push.
The bill would create an exception to New York law, which prohibits the state from prosecuting a person who has already been tried for the same crime by the federal government. The exception would make it easier for prosecutors to pursue a case against someone who received a presidential pardon.
"The legislation upholds the standards of fairness & justice at the core of the double jeopardy law, and prevents it from being used as a tool to deny justice altogether," James tweeted. She added, "The bill embodies a central component to the foundation of our democracy: The President — unlike a monarch or authoritarian dictator — is not above the law and our laws should apply to all people of this nation equally, including and especially our leaders."
The state Assembly has not yet scheduled dates for votes on either that bill or the tax legislation.
ALBANY — New York State lawmakers on Wednesday gave their final approval to a bill that would clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into a tortuous battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes.
The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and regular critic of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees.
The returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether those congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.
The Legislature’s actions put the state in a bit of unchartered legal territory; Mr. Trump has said that he is ready to take the fight over his federal tax returns to the Supreme Court, and it seems likely that he would seek to contest New York’s maneuver.
Republicans have called the effort in Albany a “bill of attainder” — an unconstitutional piece of legislation aimed at a single person or group — while also decrying the potential invasion of privacy, suggesting that federal officials would conduct improper “fishing expeditions.”
Still, for Democrats for whom the president’s steadfast refusal to release his returns has been a constant frustration, the legislative action was being cast as both a victory for states’ rights and the often unsung power of a state legislature.
“It’s a matter of New York’s prerogative,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, who sponsored the bill in his chamber. “We have a unique responsibility and role in this constitutional standoff.”
Once signed into law by Mr. Cuomo, the legislation would require the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release returns to the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose.” Such a request would be have to be made it writing, and only after a request for federal returns has been made to the Treasury Department.
In Washington, the House Ways and Means Committee has unsuccessfully sought six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns. The Treasury Department said last week that it would not honor a congressional subpoena to hand over the president’s returns, saying the request lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose,” though a leaked draft memorandum from the I.R.S. suggested that such logic was flawed.
On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee said it was focused on pursuing Mr. Trump’s federal tax information, regardless of New York’s action and the potential for getting the president’s state returns.
“Our request to the Internal Revenue Service was in furtherance of an investigation into the mandatory presidential audit program at the I.R.S.,” said Daniel Rubin, a spokesman for the committee, which is led by Representative Richard E. Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat. “State returns would not help us evaluate this program.”
At the same time, Steven M. Rosenthal, a tax lawyer and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said he would not be surprised if the president fought the state law, though he believed it passed legal muster.
“Of course, the Legislature was motivated by Donald Trump’s current refusals,” Mr. Rosenthal said, but added that he thought the bill was written broadly enough to avoid the “bill of attainder” accusation.
That opinion was echoed by Brian Galle, a law professor at Georgetown University Law School, who said that “bills of attainder have been interpreted really narrowly by the courts,” and noted that legislation often describes targeted industries or municipalities in vague terms. (In New York, for instance, state bills aimed at New York City are typically described as those affecting “a city with a population of one million or more,” as New York is the only such city in the state.)
“The bill doesn’t say you can release Donald Trump’s, and only Donald Trump’s, tax returns,” Mr. Galle said.
Lawmakers took steps to safeguard the bill from legal challenges, amending the wording so that it covered an array of public officials, federal executive branch employees and political party leaders.
The passage of the state tax bill is just the latest action in Albany directed at Mr. Trump, who is deeply unpopular in his home state.
On Tuesday, the Assembly passed a bill that would allow state prosecutors to pursue state charges against any person granted a presidential pardon on similar federal charges, undoing a loophole in the face of concern about Mr. Trump abusing his pardon power to indemnify former associates. The Senate had previously passed the bill to close the so-called double jeopardy loophole, and it, too, has Mr. Cuomo’s support.
Mr. Hoylman said he envisioned the state tax bill as a way to assist congressional oversight at a time of “White House stonewalling.” Indeed, when the bill was first introduced in early April, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it would make the work of federal committee “a little easier to see the complete picture.”
His office reiterated that support on Wednesday, calling the state’s action an act “for transparency.”
“It’s something we can give Chairman Neal if he decides to exercise it,” Rob Gottheim, a district director for Mr. Nadler, said of the Ways and Means Committee leader.
During his campaign for president in 2016, Mr. Trump broke precedent — and set his own — by refusing to release his tax returns, citing what he said were pending federal audits. There is no law preventing taxpayers from releasing their returns under such circumstances.
David Buchwald, the Assembly sponsor of the state tax bill and a tax lawyer by trade, said that he was confident the state was within its rights to allow federal access to such records, noting that state tax officials commonly share information with the I.R.S. and other states.
“There are no valid constitutional arguments against this legislation,” Mr. Buchwald said on Wednesday. “The state has the authority over the statutes when it shares tax return information.” He noted that local property tax information, for instance, was available to the public.
Mr. Galle seconded this, saying “there is no constitutional right to have privacy in your tax returns,” though federal law offers some protections of such information, as well as exceptions.
While New York is a profoundly blue state, the support was not unanimous in the Democratic-led Assembly. Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat, voted no, saying the bill troubled him.
“We are traveling down a path we should not be traveling down,” Mr. Benedetto said, calling the bill political in nature and meant to “get a few people.”
On Wednesday, the state’s top Republican in the Senate, John J. Flanagan, was also outraged that Democrats had “wasted weeks on their singular obsession with getting a peek at President Trump’s taxes,” while other issues languished.
“It’s time for Democrats in Albany to stop seeking cheap headlines,” Mr. Flanagan said.