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N.Y. Democratic lawmakers ready new front to obtain Trump's tax returns

Image: President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition's a
President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual leadership meeting, Saturday April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas -
Jacquelyn Martin AP
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As congressional Democrats begin what could be a tumultuous battle to obtain President Donald Trump's tax returns, lawmakers in New York are trying to make it easier for them to get their hands on the president's state filings.

Scheduled for introduction this week is a bill that would amend state law permit the New York Department of Taxation and Finance commissioner to release any state tax return requested by leaders of either the House Ways and Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation for any "specific and legitimate legislative purpose." The bill seeks to amend state laws which generally prohibit the release of such tax information.

If passed, the only way the congressional committees could obtain the information would be to file a request with the state after other efforts to gain access to federal tax filings via the Treasury Department failed.

A spokesperson for Democratic state Senator Brad Hoylman, who is sponsoring the legislation, confirmed to NBC News that the bill will soon be introduced. The New York Times reported on the legislation earlier Monday.

Though the bill would only apply to the president's state returns and not the federal ones currently at the center of a Washington battle, tax filings from the president's home state that additionally serves as the headquarters of his business are likely to contain much of the same information congressional lawmakers are seeking from his federal returns.

And, with New York's legislature and governor's mansion being under Democratic control, there is a path to the bill's passage, though similar measures did not take off in the state Assembly during the prior legislative session when Republicans held a majority in the state Senate.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. The White House declined comment.

The effort comes after House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., on Wednesday formally requested six years of Trump's personal and business tax filings from the IRS under a statutethat allows him to demand an individual's tax returns. If the Treasury Department denies his request, that could set off a legal battle to obtain them.

Responding to the news, Trump told reporters he was "under audit" and would not be releasing the returns.

"I'm always under audit, it seems," he said. "Until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that."

Trump has said he is under audit since the 2016 election cycle, using that explanation as his rationale for not releasing his returns. Although the IRS has regularly audited presidents and vice presidents since the 1970s, being under audit does not preclude Trump from making his tax information public, nor did it stop past presidents from doing so.

Trump is the only major presidential candidate of either party since the early 1970s not to release his tax returns, and Democrats have pushed for him to release his taxes since the 2016 election.

In a Friday letter to the Treasury Department, Trump's attorney, William Consovoy, called on the IRS to reject Neal's request, saying it "would be a gross abuse of power" that could lead to a political tit-for-tat. On Sunday, Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats will "never" be able to obtain Trump's tax filings.

"Keep in mind, that was an issue that was already litigated during the election," he added. "Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns, they knew he didn't, and they elected him anyway, which is of course what drives the Democrats crazy."

Another Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow, accused Democrats in an interview with ABC"s "This Week" of using the IRS as a "political weapon" to obtain the returns and promised to fight the move if needed.

Democrats, meanwhile, insisted they need to see the returns to know how Trump's personal holdings and interests may be affecting his decision-making.