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Democrats in Albany target Trump on his tax returns, pardon powers

ALBANY – The nation’s bitter, partisan divide was on full display the past two days on the floors of the state Assembly and Senate, with Democrats and Republicans in full feuding mode over one person: President Trump.

Democrats, in firm control of both houses, ruled both days.

On Tuesday, lawmakers passed a bill to permit state prosecutors to bring criminal cases against a limited set of individuals who might receive presidential pardons for federal crimes. The legislation was spawned a year ago by Trump’s suggestions of pardons of associates caught up in scandals.

On Wednesday, the Legislature OK'd a bill and amendment to let congressional investigators obtain from New York the state tax filings of Trump – a resident of the state – and other politicians.

“It’s not really a partisan attack. It’s an attack on what we believe is going on with our presidency,’’ said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a veteran Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill pertaining to presidential pardons.

The Democrat said in an interview that people will assign political motivations to what’s occurred here this week in Albany based on their personal political beliefs. “We live in a blue state. I think a lot of people are going to be sympathetic to both bills, but there’s going to be a segment of the population who really believes this guy, unfortunately, as unbelievable as it seems to me,’’ Lentol said of Trump.

But Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said the Democrats running Albany the past two days exhibited “complete and utterly displaced priorities.’’

“This is a flagrant abuse of taxpayer time and money. If you want to deal with federal issues, run for federal offices. We should be concentrating on issues of importance to New York State,’’ Flanagan said Wednesday.

Both measures are supported by and expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has made his political displeasure with the president well-known for more than a year.

A White House spokesman has not returned emails seeking comment.

But this week, lawmakers dipped their toes squarely into the legal and political squabbles of Washington.

Trump’s New York taxes

Democratic lawmakers in Albany, at one point urged on by their Democratic colleagues in Congress looking to unearth Trump’s tax returns, originally proposed a measure that would require the state tax commissioner to turn over the returns of any New Yorker if requested in writing – and if for a “legitimate task” of the U.S. Congress – by any of three congressional committees. The chairs of the committees decide if the request is for a legitimate task.

That legislation was changed Sunday night to more narrowly target the measure to include the president, as well as most people who hold federal, state and local offices in New York. The list of people whose returns can be released is a long one besides Trump: federal executive branch employees, state employees, most state and local government elected officials, political party officials and judges.

The measure’s final passage Wednesday in Albany came as congressional Democrats and the Trump White House continued their legal sparring over the release of the president’s tax records. Whether the congressional committees will seek Trump’s New York returns is still uncertain. Trump on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s ruling that his federal returns be released to congressional investigators.

Assemblyman William Barclay, a Syracuse-area Republican, said congressional officials have suggested their goal is to get Trump’s federal returns, not necessarily his state returns. “We’re kind of going off here on our own,’’ he said on the Assembly floor.

“We’ll probably see within the relatively near future whether this legislation is relevant,’’ responded Assemblyman David Buchwald, a Westchester County Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.

Democrats said Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns necessitated action in his home state. “No one can be above the law,’’ Buchwald said.

Flanagan and his Senate Republicans offered a hostile amendment Wednesday to the Trump tax bill calling for new state tax cuts. It was rejected. “This is a very, very slippery slope. It’s unfair and an unwise invasion of people’s privacy,’’ he said of the numbers of New York residents whose federal returns will soon be able to be turned over to congressional committees.

Double jeopardy

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed legislation – already approved by the Senate – to close what Democrats say has been a loophole to New York’s double jeopardy laws. The effort began a year ago when Trump did not rule out a pardon for his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was convicted this year on a number of financial-related charges.

The measure would allow New York prosecutors to criminally charge certain individuals connected to a U.S. president with a similar state crime for which they have been pardoned for the purposes of federal laws.

Democrats acknowledged there is no active case that might be used against a Trump pardon, and insisted that the measure will be on the books to affect all future presidential pardons – whether issued by a Democrat or Republican.

“Have we ever seen anything like this where the president has threatened to use his pardon power in order to protect himself from criminal liability of sorts? And that’s not the appropriate use that we want to see in New York State,’’ Lentol said.

Jamestown-area Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, the GOP floor leader pushing against the bill, said Democrats were upending 100 years of double jeopardy protections solely based on a “hypothetical situation” involving Trump.

The Democrats who control the Legislature passed the legislation as a “poke in the eye” to Trump and to express “a political statement” about a president they oppose, Goodell said.

But while some Democrats sought to describe the bill as offering lasting legal protections for New York – whether involving future pardons by Republican or Democratic presidents – others made no mistake that Trump is the reason for acting now. “We are dealing with a criminal in the White House,’’ said Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Bronx Democrat.

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