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NY Senate Dems: “Standing Up" To Trump

Two bills approved in the New York state Senate Wednesday could affect President Donald Trump and his associates. One would permit the state tax department to give the president’s New York tax returns to congressional committees. The other would ensure that anyone the president pardons for federal crimes could still be prosecuted for crimes committed in New York.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins predicts the measures will have a “major impact both nationally and in New York state.”

“The president and his administration has repeatedly shown a true hostility to the rule of law and presidential customs,” said Stewart-Cousins. “No one is above the law.”  

Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman is the sponsor of the bill that would allow Congress to see the president’s state tax returns. Trump is a lifelong resident of New York and many of his businesses are headquartered here. Hoylman says the concept is not new, and that New York already “routinely” shares people’s tax returns with other states and the IRS.

“We are simply expanding that authority to allow the state tax department to share that information with one of three congressional committees,” said Hoylman, who said the three committees are the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation.  

The president and his aides are currently resisting attempts by Democrats in Congress to see Trump’s federal taxes. Supporters of the New York bill hope that the state tax returns will give the congressional investigators clues on what might be contained in the president’s federal tax returns. 

Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky is sponsoring a second bill that ensures that state prosecutors can still pursue criminal cases, even if the person is pardoned by Trump. The measure adds an exception to what’s known as the “double jeopardy” protection law.

“New York is a sovereign entity,” Kaminsky said. “And if a law was broken here we should not tie the hands of our prosecutors and citizens to seek redress for that and to bring that before a grand jury.”

The president has so far not pardoned any of his associates who face or are serving jail time for crimes, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. But Trump has pardoned others, including former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his conviction for contempt of court, and conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was found guilty of making illegal campaign contributions. Trump has several times raised the possibly of pardons for his former associates.  

Republican New York state Senator Andrew Lanza, in debate on the Senate floor, warned Democrats about tampering with what he calls a fundamental tenet of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents governments from trying a person more than once for the same crime. He accused the Democrats of being “blinded” by political considerations.

“We’re going to throw freedom into the garbage heap, we’re going to allow tyranny to once again get a foothold on these shores,” said Lanza. “We're going to open the door to the idea that government is in control, that government has the power, that your rights and your freedoms are subservient to the whims of tyranny. Hate who you like, please don’t hate freedom.”  

Democrats say the measure is limited in scope and only applies to presidential pardons.

Senate GOP Minority Leader John Flanagan, speaking earlier in the week, says the bill to make it easier to obtain Trump’s taxes is a “blatantly political act.”   

“We should be spending our time worrying about what we can do for New Yorkers,” Flanagan said, who said the people in his district care more about the state’s high taxes and programs that can benefit them.

“The first thing on their agenda is not talking about the president’s tax returns,” he said. “They want to know about what’s happening with flooding in Lake Ontario, what’s going on with college affordability.”   

Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins denies that the measures are politically motivated. She says the Senate is acting to fulfill a need.

“It’s very clear that we, as lawmakers, make laws to fit circumstances of the day,” she said. “This is a circumstance of the day.”  

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo supports the two bills, but the measures have not yet been approved in the Assembly. Speaker Carl Heastie says his Democratic members still need to discuss the bills in their private party conference.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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