New York Senate passes 2 bills that take direct aim at Trump

Bills passed in back-to-back votes Wednesday

By Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

President Donald Trump

(CNN) - State senators in New York passed two bills Wednesday aimed directly at President Donald Trump -- one that could allow his state tax returns to be released to Congress and another to allow state prosecutors to charge people whom the President pardons with state crimes.

The bills were passed in back-to-back votes by the Democrat-controlled state Senate Wednesday. Though the bills have passed the Senate, they still have to pass in the state assembly before heading to the governor's desk. Its members are expected to discuss the bills Monday, assembly spokeswoman Keri Biche tells CNN.

The first bill allows state officials to release state tax returns in cooperation with congressional investigations if requested by the chairperson of the US House Ways & Means Committee, the US Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday denied a request from US House Democrats to access six years of Trump's personal tax returns. The President has refused to release his tax information, first as a candidate and later in office, breaking a precedent that dates back to the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

"Circumstances of the day really has dictated this legislation," the bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman, told reporters before the vote.

The second bill aims to close what's known as the "double-jeopardy loophole."

The bill, said Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, would ensure "the corrupt use of the presidential pardon" won't prevent New York law enforcement officials from bringing a case to a grand jury.

It applies only in situations "where the President had a conflict of interest in the case; for example, where the person pardoned is related to the President, or had previously worked for the President," the New York Senate Democratic Majority said in a statement after the bill passed.

Some Republicans view the legislation as politically motivated and a way to attack the Trump White House. The state's Democratic leadership sees them as a way to hold the President and his administration accountable.

The White House hasn't announced pardon plans for any of Trump's associates. CNN reported last month that Trump told then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who is now the acting secretary of Homeland Security, he would pardon him if McAleenan were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law. And in an interview last year, Trump said a pardon for Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, wasn't off the table.

Manafort is currently serving a nearly four-year sentence for financial fraud convictions obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller as a part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The crimes did not relate directly to Manafort's work as Trump's 2016 campaign chairman.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not immediately comment on the Senate's votes on Wednesday but the Democrat has signaled support for both in the past.

"The conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty pleas from Michael Cohen send a clear message that nobody is above the law, including the President and his acolytes. But President Trump has shown that he is willing if not eager to abuse his executive authority, including pardon power, to protect himself," he said in a statement in last August.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz, Caroline Kelly and Evan Simko-Bednarski contributed to this report

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