Donald Trump is a product of New York. But right about now, the president probably wishes he was a son of Texas.
With Republicans in control of the Senate — and his lackeys at the top of every major agency — Trump has all but immunized himself from accountability at the federal level. Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to honor the House’s legally binding (in the view of most scholars) request to turn over six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, arguing that Congress lacked “a legitimate legislative purpose” for soliciting those documents.
That decision will be challenged in court. And considering the abnormalities in the ten years of tax returns the New York Times reported on Tuesday night, the notion that Democrats couldn’t possibly find a legislative use for Trump’s information is absurd. For one thing, there’s the national-security question of where a mogul who claimed more than $1 billion in losses between 1985 and 1994 got his financing in the decades since. For another, the White House itself claims that the tax returns the Times reported on reflect unfair tax loopholes that “need to change.”
Nevertheless, it’s going to take a while for the courts to settle the matter — and given how conservative the courts have grown on Trump’s watch, there’s a decent chance they’ll rule in his favor.
Thus, if Trump were from the Lone Star State — or some other bastion of red America — he wouldn’t have to worry about the exposure of his recent tax history for at least a while.
Alas, Trump grew up — and did the lion’s share of his business — in the deep-blue Empire State. So even though he’s turned the Justice Department into something approaching his personal detective agency, he still has state-level prosecutors combing through his books. And even though he’s persuaded Mnuchin to nullify the law to keep his taxes under wraps, he’s got New York State lawmakers on the cusp of releasing his state-level returns.
On Wednesday, New York’s Senate easily passed a bill that would require the state to turn over the state tax returns of any U.S. president, vice-president, or senator — or any state governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, or comptroller — upon the request of the House Ways and Means Committee. Given that the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic — and Governor Andrew Cuomo has already endorsed the legislation — it seems only a matter of time before the bill becomes law.
New York still wouldn’t be able to provide the House with the federal tax returns it has sought. But since Trump’s economic activity has been so heavily concentrated in New York, it is likely that his state-level returns will mirror his federal ones in many respects. At the very least, they will offer unprecedented insight into Trump’s business relationships and recent income.
It remains possible that the Trump administration will find a federal court willing to block New York’s hand. But legal analysts who spoke with the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein were skeptical.
“The claim that New York can’t give Trump’s returns to Ways and Means is really, really, really weak,” Daniel Hemel, a professor at the University of Chicago, told the paper. “New York has a really good argument that it’s just mirroring Congress’s own choice about confidentiality.”
Shortly before its vote on the tax-return legislation, the New York State Senate passed a bill clarifying that a presidential pardon does not immunize an individual against state-level prosecution for similar charges in the state — a dull bit of legislative minutiae that surely does not concern the president in any way.