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With new law, Trump's state tax returns could go to Congress

By DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — President Donald Trump's New York state tax returns could be given to Congress under a new law in his home state that the Democratic governor signed Monday.

The measure signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs state tax officials to share state returns of certain elected and appointed officials upon written request from the chairpersons of one of three committees: House Ways and Means, Senate Finance or Joint Committee on Taxation.

Designed to give Congress a way around the Republican president's refusal to release his returns, the new law is expected to face legal challenges. And it's unclear whether Congress will request access to Trump's state returns, which tax experts say would include many of the same details as his federal return.

"No one person — no matter what office they might hold — is above the law," said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and the Senate sponsor of the legislation.

All sides expect legal challenges and requests for injunctions, meaning it could be many months before any state tax returns are handed over. The White House did not return a message seeking comment Monday on the law.

Trump has long filed taxes in New York as a resident of the state. He is the first president since Watergate to decline to make his returns public, often claiming that he would release them if he were not under audit.

The president has not weighed in on the new law but has repeatedly accused New York Democrats of using their positions to harass him and his allies. Republican state lawmakers say their concerns about the new law go far beyond Trump, arguing that any official from New York could be targeted.

"We're going to let them, political hacks, decide when they want to invade your privacy," Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, said during floor debate on the bill. "Today, it's because you are a Democrat, tomorrow it's because you're a Republican, the next day it's because you want to run for Congress."

Democrats are eager to get ahold of the returns, which could reveal details about his business dealings, his debts and international financial ties.

If Congress does request and obtain Trump's state tax returns, that doesn't mean the public gets to see them. Under federal law, the confidential information in the returns is supposed to be for the committee's eyes only.

To address concerns about the tax privacy of everyday New Yorkers, state lawmakers narrowed the measure so it applies only to the state income tax returns elected officials, party leaders and top public officials, like judges — as well as any businesses or legal entities they control.

In addition, state tax officials would be required to redact personal information, such as Social Security numbers or personal addresses, before handing over the documents.

Top lawmakers in Washington have differed on whether congressional committees should make use of the new law.

U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, has touted the bill as "a workaround to a White House that continues to obstruct and stonewall the legitimate oversight work of Congress."

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, however, has signaled that he may not be interested. Neal is already pursuing Trump's federal returns and has threatened to go to court in order to get the administration to comply.

"The difficulty is that we don't have control over state taxes," Neal said in May when asked about the New York legislation. "For the moment, we're still proceeding on our own path."

The group Stand Up America, created in 2016 to mobilize opposition to Trump, urged Democrats in Washington to immediately request Trump's state returns.

"New York has provided Congress a new route for getting answers on behalf of the American people — and all they have to do is ask," Ryan Thomas, a spokesman for the organization, said in a statement. "Any further delay is an injustice to the American people who deserve transparency about Trump's foreign entanglements and massive conflicts of interest."

Neal has issued subpoenas for six years of Trump's tax documents, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has so far resisted, saying Congress' request "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose."

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