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Exclusive: Newsom signs bill to force Trump tax returns

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California's Newsom signs bill to force Trump tax returns

By   |  07/30/2019 01:56 PM EDT

California Gov. Gavin Newsom embraced a politically explosive and legally dubious attempt to pry loose President Donald Trump’s tax returns on Tuesday, signing legislation that would boot Trump from California primary ballots if he doesn’t make his filings public.

For Democrats who wield absolute control over Sacramento, the measure offered a chance to directly confront a president who is deeply unpopular among most California voters — and for Newsom to escalate his longstanding feud with the president while distinguishing himself from Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed a similar measure in 2017.

Newsom rarely hesitates to throw punches at Trump, habitually assailing the president on Twitter as the California Department of Justice challenges the administration over dozens of policies. Before becoming governor, Newsom regularly called out Trump for not disclosing his tax returns and insinuated that Trump was hiding damaging information.

If developments in Washington are any indication, a legal challenge is all but inevitable. Trump has sued to rebuff House Democrats who are subpoenaing his tax returns and challenged New York officials who enacted a law that could expose the president’s financial records.

And Newsom's signature could push his already-contentious relationship with Trump into volatile new territory — potentially imperiling California's relationship with Washington.

In his signing message, Newsom wrote that in "extraordinary times," state officials "have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence."

"This law should be a national standard," Newsom wrote, underscoring his longstanding push to position California as a model for anti-Trumpism, a framing that has helped elevate Newsom to a national figure.

The logic underpinning Newsom's argument was consistent with the governor's repeated comments in past years that public transparency compels Trump to release his tax returns. He repeatedly suggested that Trump was "hiding" damaging information, writing that Trump's "finances are a house of cards."

And by signing the bill Newsom broke with his predecessor Brown, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017, warning then of constitutional hurdles and the risk of escalating a political conflict. While Brown displayed ample enmity toward Trump — particularly over the administration's approach to climate change — he was seen as more cautious and moderate than Newsom.

While the bill sailed through California’s Democratic-dominated Legislature with little friction, it spurred an angry response from marginalized California Republicans who accused their counterparts of ginning up conflict. California Republican Party chair Jessica Millan Patterson excoriated Newsom in a statement calling the law “clearly unconstitutional.”

“Democrat leadership in this state continues to put partisan politics first — a fact made obvious by Gov. Newsom's insistence here to waste time and taxpayer money to fight a losing legal battle instead of joining Republicans in seeking ways to reduce the cost of living, help our schools and make our streets safer,” Patterson said.

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