New York Closing in on Trump's State Tax Returns

May 21, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

New York lawmakers are close to passing a new law that will allow the state to provide President Trump's highly sought after state tax returns to Congress.

Known as the TRUST Act, the law will require that New York's commissioner of taxation and finance cooperate with investigations into elected officials from the Congressional Ways and Means Committee, the main tax-writing body in the House of Representatives. The bill was passed by the New York State Senate earlier this month and could be voted on by the state Assembly as early as Wednesday.

"New Yorkers have a special responsibility as the home state of Donald Trump to help Congress in its solemn responsibilities as a co-equal branch of government," New York State Senator Brad Hoylman told Cheddar in an interview Tuesday. Hoylman co-sponsored the bill with state Assemblyman David Buchwald.

Under the TRUST Act, the state would only be able to fulfill requests from Congress for Trump's state filings, which would, nonetheless, provide lawmakers and the public with significant insight into the New York real estate developer's financial holdings.

"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," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

Breaking with a long standing norm, President Trump first refused to release his taxes during the 2016 election, claiming he was under audit and then alleging that his taxes were not of concern to the American people. The Trump administration has since bucked several attempts from congressional Democrats to obtain the president's taxes and examine possible foreign entanglements and fraud.

Earlier this month, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin informed the House Ways and Means Committee that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not release Trump's taxes, claiming the request from the committee chair, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), was unlawful.

House Democrats fiercely criticized the rebuff, arguing the law is clearly on the side of Congressional oversight. In response, Neal issued subpoenas on May 10 to Secretary Mnuchin and the Commissioner of the IRS for six years of Trump's personal and business tax returns — the Trump administration refused to comply with the legal summons.

"This is such an important issue at this time where there is essentially a constitutional standoff between two branches of the federal government," Hoylman said. "Lo and behold the state legislature can step into that constitutional void."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for the TRUST Act, which will require his signature once it passes the state assembly.

"The president and his administration has repeatedly shown a true hostility to the rule of law and presidential customs," Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the NY State Senate majority leader, said at a press conference when the bill passed. "Today we are sending a message: no one is above the law."

The New York Republican party, however, claims that the law is a "brazen overreach" and is "a violation of the privacy rights" for all Americans, which would set a concerning precedent. "Assembly Democrats can warm to this illegal bill of attainder all they want but it will be met with a lawsuit," the Republican state committee said in a tweet last week.

In Washington, House Democrats have praised the New York initiative. "This bill is a workaround to a White House that continues to obstruct and stonewall the legitimate oversight work of Congress," Rep. Nadler's statement added.

The bill also enjoys support from a coalition of progressive groups — including Americans for Tax Fairness and Citizen Action of New York — which sent a letter to the state assembly speaker urging the passage of the bill.

The TRUST Act will "not only allow Congress to investigate President Trump and his various financial entanglements, but would also allow the American people to hold him accountable for his deeply troubling conflicts of interests," the group's letter read.