Congressional Democrats could get some of President Donald Trump’s personal tax information thanks to a new law signed Monday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ― but they don’t seem terribly interested.
House Democrats have sued the Trump administration over its refusal to hand over copies of the president’s federal returns. But they have expressed little enthusiasm for getting his New York returns, even though they could obtain some of the same information they’re looking for.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), who authored the New York bill, told HuffPost he received no input from congressional Democrats while drafting the bill and hasn’t heard from anyone on Capitol Hill about getting the documents.
“I can understand why they would want to test the federal waters first,” Hoylman said. “But if they don’t want to wait for the court challenge and the appeals process to complete itself, they could take advantage of this route New York has provided them today.”
I don’t want to head into 2020 without Americans and New Yorkers ... knowing more about Trump’s secret business dealings. New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D)
Spokespeople for House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) ― who has led the Democratic quest for Trump’s federal tax info ― did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on Monday.
New York’s new law directs the state tax commissioner to provide congressional committees any private tax information they request, so long as they have already asked for federal returns like Neal did for Trump’s taxes in April.
Federal law gives the chairs of congressional tax committees the right to ask the Internal Revenue Service for anyone’s tax information, but the Trump administration has refused Neal’s request, claiming it would violate the president’s privacy and describing it as an abuse of power. It’s the first time an administration has ever refused to comply with the tax disclosure law, which Congress enacted in 1924 to expose executive corruption.
If past congressional lawsuits seeking to pry information from the executive branch are any guide, Neal has a good chance of winning ― but not necessarily anytime soon.
Hoylman described New York’s new law as “a constitutional safety hatch to immediately obtain Donald Trump’s state taxes” before the next presidential election.
“I don’t want to head into 2020 without Americans and New Yorkers ... knowing more about Trump’s secret business dealings,” Hoylman said.
Trump is the first president in more than 40 years to refuse to disclose private tax information, and also the first not to put his business assets in a blind trust.
Ways and Means member Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said he appreciated what New York Democrats were trying to do, though he stopped short of saying Capitol Hill Democrats should accept the help.
“We should investigate any tool provided us that might shed sunlight on Trump’s tax return history, including his tax reporting practices and the results of any IRS audits,” Pascrell said.
Another committee member, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) — who has criticized his party for moving too slowly — said that since the lawsuit will probably drag “until next year or beyond,” the committee should consider the New York option.
“Let’s use every tool in the box to overcome administration stonewalling,” Doggett said.
A spokesman for the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), said the law “changes nothing for situations where requests for private tax information against a political enemy lack a legitimate legislative purpose,” echoing the Trump administration’s legal argument against Neal’s request.
The president’s state returns would include some of the same information as on his federal returns, said Lawrence Zelenak, a tax professor at the Duke University School of Law. New York’s state income tax form, for instance, requires a number of entries from federal tax forms. And Zelenak said state law requires taxpayers to file an amended state return if the IRS has made changes to their federal return as a result of an audit.
“If they got the state returns, they’d get a great deal of information from the federal returns,” Zelenak said.
This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Lloyd Doggett and a spokesman for Rep. Kevin Brady.