As the battle over President Donald Trump’s federal taxes intensifies in Washington, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a bill Monday to allow congressional committees to access the president’s state tax returns.
The bill requires state tax officials to release the president’s state returns for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose” on the request of the chair of one of three congressional committees: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
It is effective immediately, though it is unclear whether it would be challenged by the Trump administration, or used by the congressional committees; the Ways and Means Committee, for instance, has said previously that it remains focused on pursuing Trump’s federal tax information.
Still, the state tax documents from New York — the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, tax experts say.
Democrats in Washington have been unable to obtain Trump’s federal returns. The House Ways and Means Committee has unsuccessfully sought six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns, and last week the House of Representatives sued the Treasury Department and the IRS to try to force them to release the returns.
Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and frequent critic of Trump, said that signing the bill would help Congress “fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, strengthen our democratic system and ensure that no one is above the law.”
The Legislature had passed the measure in late May. Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that the six-week delay in signing the bill was because the governor’s office needed to do a diligent analysis of the legislation and its amendments.
“Any responsible government would thoroughly review this bill, just as we will with more than 930 bills passed this session,” Lever said, noting “how high the stakes are of this particular legislation.”
The bill signing is the latest in an escalating series of statements and actions that the Cuomo administration has taken against Trump or his policies.
Last week, the president used Twitter to lash out at Cuomo and the state attorney general, Letitia James.
Without mentioning James by name, the president said she was “harassing all of my New York businesses in search of anything at all they can find to make me look as bad as possible.”
James’ office is investigating the financing behind several major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the NFL in 2014, and has issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank.
After Trump’s tirade, Cuomo responded, “If he is worried about law enforcement, he shouldn’t break the law.”
On Wednesday, Cuomo called for a probe into the Trump administration’s handling of relief efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, blaming the island’s slow recovery on “President Trump’s neglect and refusal to provide adequate assistance.”
Two days later, the governor slammed the president for continuing his efforts to include a citizenship question on the U.S. census, accusing Trump of “using the census as a political pawn in his anti-immigrant agenda.”
Now, Cuomo is pushing forward to give Congress a path to obtain Trump’s state tax returns. The White House had no immediate comment on the governor’s decision to sign the bill.
The bill has been harshly criticized by Republicans in New York and elsewhere as a “bill of attainder” — an unconstitutional piece of legislation aimed at a single person or group — as well as a potential invasion of privacy. In a statement, Cuomo agreed that “tax secrecy is paramount,” with, however, “the exception being for bona fide investigative and law enforcement purposes.”
Legal challenges could await. Trump has previously said that he is ready to take the fight over his federal tax returns to the Supreme Court.
But there have been several amendments made to the New York bill to address potential legal concerns, according to the bill’s supporters, including broadening its focus to cover an array of public officials, federal executive branch employees and political party leaders.
Assemblyman David Buchwald, who sponsored the bill in Albany’s lower chamber, called the governor’s actions “a momentous step,” a sentiment echoed by his Senate counterpart, Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.
“Our legislation isn’t about one person,” Hoylman said. “It’s about assisting Congress in its oversight abilities.”
In May, the New York Legislature also passed a bill to allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against any individual granted a presidential pardon for similar federal crimes, closing a loophole some in Albany feared would be exploited by Trump seeking to indemnify former associates. That bill is also awaiting the governor’s signature.