By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. House of Representatives Democrat for tax policy suggested on Tuesday that a newly minted New York law giving Congress access to President Donald Trump's state tax returns may not be relevant to his own efforts to obtain the president's federal records.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who has filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Treasury to hand over six years of Trump's individual and business federal tax returns, told reporters that Democratic lawyers for the House are reviewing the measure that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed on Monday.
"We're talking to counsel. But remember that ours is a policy issue at the federal level," Neal said. "So far, the attorneys have been pretty clear that they don't think that it's applicable in the manner currently being discussed, because we are basing our request on ... federal law."
Cuomo signed an amendment to a tax law that would require the New York commissioner of the Department of Taxation and Finance to share state income tax returns and reports when requested by certain congressional committees, including Neal's.
The state law provides a new avenue of investigation for Democrats who lead the House. It circumvents Trump's refusal to hand over his federal tax returns to Congress and would provide information that is similar to that on federal forms. Because Trump's personal home and the headquarters of his business are in New York, he must file state tax returns for both.
Neal's caution about exercising the New York option has frustrated tax activists who contend that state returns could provide valuable information to House Democrats, who are investigating Trump's compliance with U.S. tax law and any conflicts of interest posed by his business holdings.
But some House Democrats worry that seeking Trump's state returns could complicate the federal lawsuit that Neal's committee filed a week ago to enforce congressional subpoenas for Trump's individual and business returns.
The Trump administration contends that Neal's committee, despite its jurisdiction over U.S. tax policy, has no legitimate legislative purpose for reviewing Trump's tax returns.
Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on Neal's panel, accused House Democratic leaders on Tuesday of undermining Congress by authorizing committee lawsuits. He introduced a bill requiring any lawsuits to be authorized instead by the full House.
(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington; additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)