Two bills approved Wednesday in the state Senate 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 state.
Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins predicted 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," Stewart-Cousins said. "No one is above the law."
Sen. 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 said the concept is not new, and New York state 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," Hoylman said.
He 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.
Sen. 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 is 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 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 he 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 Sen. 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," Lanza said. "Hate who you like; please don’t hate freedom."
Democrats said the measure is limited in scope and applies only to presidential pardons.
Senate GOP Minority Leader John Flanagan, speaking earlier in the week, said 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.
He 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 on Lake Ontario, what’s going on with college affordability."
Stewart-Cousins denied that the measures are politically motivated. She said 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."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the two bills, but the measures have not yet been approved in the Assembly. Speaker Carl Heastie said his Democratic members still need to discuss the bill in their private party conference.