If Richard Neal wants Donald Trump’s New York state tax returns, he can have them.
That’s thanks to a new amendment signed into law by Andrew Cuomo on Monday that grants certain congressional committees access to state income tax returns – committees like Neal’s Ways and Means panel, which has been after Trump’s federal returns since April.
The new bill mandates the release of the president’s state returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation, for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose”. This is effective immediately.
Trump’s state returns would almost surely feature quite a bit of the information Neal is after given that New York is the president’s home state and the epicenter of his business “empire” (scare quotes are there because considering what everyone now knows about Trump’s not-at-all-illustrious career, it’s not clear if “empire” is the right word).
Cuomo says the bill – which passed the legislature in May – will assist lawmakers in their efforts to fulfill their “Constitutional responsibilities, strengthen our democratic system and ensure that no one is above the law”.
In other words, the bill is designed to help Congress do all the things Trump works day and night to keep them from doing. Over the last six months, the president and his legal team have engaged in an at times comically flagrant effort to obstruct lawmakers in their oversight capacity.
Speaking of the legal team, any guesses on what Jay Sekulow told the press when asked for comment? If you said “He rolled out a Trump-ism” you win a congressional subpoena that you can feel free to ignore, apparently. “[This is] more presidential harassment”, Sekulow said. “We will respond to this as appropriate”.
It’s not clear whether Neal – who sued Treasury and the IRS last week after Steve Mnuchin stonewalled the committee and refused a subpoena – will take Cuomo up on the offer. Previously, Neal indicated he wouldn’t ask for the president’s New York returns, presumably because such a request could water down the committee’s contention that Neal is just trying to ensure “the IRS’s self-imposed policy of annually auditing the returns of sitting Presidents is working properly” (that’s a quote from the lawsuit). “This wouldn’t matter for our purposes”, a spokesman for Neal said in May. “The committee is investigating the mandatory presidential audit program at the IRS to determine whether or not the program needs to be codified into federal law”.
Neal’s case against Mnuchin’s Treasury and the IRS is assigned to a Trump appointee who has already shot down House Democrats’ bid to block the president’s effort to divert money earmarked for other purposes to the construction of the border wall.
New York, apparently, just wants Neal to know the state is there for him if he gets impatient with the legal fight for Trump’s federal returns, which will likely drag on past the election and could eventually make it to the Supreme Court. Brad Hoylman, the New York senator who sponsored the bill, called the legislation a “constitutional safety hatch”. He also insisted that this “isn’t about one person” but rather “about assisting Congress in its oversight abilities”.
Spare us, Brad. This is obviously “about one person”. But that’s perfectly fine in this case, because that “one person” hasn’t just broken with historical precedent on presidents releasing their tax returns. Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his finances a literal state secret, although in Trump’s America, the “state” only includes the executive branch.
Three people who will not be able to use New York’s “safety hatch” on their own are Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings, all of whom are seeking documents and testimony from the administration. Trump sued to block Mazars and Deutsche Bank from complying with congressional requests and lost. He’s appealing.
Trump lashed out at Cuomo and Letitia James last week in a series of irritated tweets. “Governor Andrew Cuomo uses his Attorney General as a bludgeoning tool for his own purposes. They sue on everything, always in search of a crime”, the president said. “I even got sued on a Foundation which took Zero rent and expenses and gave away more money than it had”.
As a reminder, the president’s foundation was accused of being “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests”.
Trump isn’t a fan of James and he’s especially hostile to the office she holds. Earlier this year, she opened an investigation into Trump’s efforts to buy the Buffalo Bills, among other things. When James was elected in November, she delivered the following warning to the president during her victory speech in Brooklyn:
He should know that we here in New York – and I, in particular – are not scared of you. And as the next attorney general of his home state, I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn.
Here’s what Trump had to say in December while wrapping up a multi-part Twitter harangue aimed at James and her office:
….In any event, it goes on and on & the new AG, who is now being replaced by yet another AG (who openly campaigned on a GET TRUMP agenda), does little else but rant, rave & politic against me. Will never be treated fairly by these people — a total double standard of “justice.”.
He’s right about one thing – there is a GET TRUMP agenda, but the president’s suggestion that it’s somehow meritless (a “witch hunt” in his vernacular) doesn’t line up particularly well with the all-hands-on-deck effort to keep his notoriously opaque finances under lock and key.
For his part, Cuomo had a simple suggestion last week. “If he is worried about law enforcement, he shouldn’t break the law”, the governor said.