Democrats on the main tax-writing committee in the House voted during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to make six years of former President Trump’s tax returns public — the culmination of years of Democratic efforts to obtain Trump’s financial records and a move that Republicans view as a provocation as they assume control of the House.
The returns encompass years 2015 to 2020 and could be released within a few days, Ways and Means leader Richard Neal (D-Mass.), said after the vote. The returns will be attached to a package of two reports from the Ways and Means Committee to the broader Congress about the presidential audit system of the IRS.
The reports are expected to be released this evening. Trump’s tax returns are being redacted to remove information like bank account and social security numbers, and that process could take a few days, committee members said.
Democrats are remaining tight-lipped about the substance of the returns prior to their public release since private tax returns are protected documents and the IRS has yet to complete their audits. Republican committee leader Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) said there wasn’t yet a final determination on what Trump may owe in taxes for those years.
“I think we need to leave that to the tax folks,” Neal said.
But some Democrats are speaking out about what they’ve seen in Trump’s returns.
“Trump claimed tens of millions of dollars in losses and credits without the type of substantiation an ordinary taxpayer would likely provide,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a statement Tuesday. “Donald Trump had big deductions, big credits, and big losses—but seldom a big tax bill.”
“Many questions about foreign entanglements and conflicts remain unanswered and unknown,” he said, adding that “unquestioned aspects of Trump’s returns show the need both for new Presidential audit legislation and a fairer tax system.”
The committee voted along party lines, 24-16, to make the returns public, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against.
Republicans blasted the decision to release the returns, warning that the move will usher in a new era of disclosing personal financial documents as a “political weapon.”
“This meeting actually sets a terrible precedent that unleashes a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president,” Ways and Means Republican leader Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters on Tuesday.
“I won’t speculate on what the next Congress and this committee will focus on related to tax returns, but I do know that a major focus will be on the IRS,” he said.
Progressive groups cheered on the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday after the decision release the tax returns to the public.
“Tax fairness starts at the top: if the president is not paying his fair share or is otherwise abusing the tax laws, the American people have the right to know,” Frank Clemente, director of the Americans for Tax Fairness nonprofit, said in a statement.
“Chairman [Richard Neal [(D-Mass.)] and the Ways and Means Democrats are to be congratulated for their dogged pursuit of this important information. Now they must share the fruit of their labors with the American people, the final arbiters of what is acceptable behavior by our elected leaders,” he said.
Some legal commentators have said that Democrats would be abusing the oversight process by rushing to make private tax returns public without performing a substantial assessment of the presidential audit program that is the ostensible reason for obtaining Trump’s returns.
“Any review of the presidential audit program that starts now and ends when the GOP takes control of the House in January would be slapdash and superficial,” New York University Law School Professor Daniel Hemel wrote for the website Lawfare earlier this month.
“Neal and the House Ways and Means Committee would undermine their own credibility—and could be seen as hoodwinking the courts and the public—if they proceeded to release the returns outside the context of a comprehensive review of the presidential audit program,” he wrote.
Tax experts have expressed doubts about whether the documents obtained by the committee are enough to back up years of investigative reporting that also gained access to Trump’s financial records and painted a dismal picture of Trump as a businessman.
“It could be a case of too little too late,” Steve Rosenthal, an analyst with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said in an interview. “I expect very little, without a fuller probe.”
In 2020, The New York Times reported that Trump paid “no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years – largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” Trump reported a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax return, theoretically allowing him to avoid income tax for nearly 20 years, the paper reported in 2016.
Trump broke with a decades-long precedent in not releasing his tax returns during his presidential campaign, also declining to do so after he assumed office in 2017. While there is no federal law requiring presidents to make their tax returns public, there is a presidential audit policy at the IRS.
The refusal incensed Democrats, who blasted Trump frequently during his presidency over his lack of transparency and in light of his public image as a successful businessperson.
After Democrats won the House in 2018, Neal requested Trump’s individual returns and those of eight of his businesses as part of an oversight probe.
Neal told then-IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in a 2019 letter that the committee needed information on the way the IRS audits U.S. presidents as part of its internal procedures and on how it takes their business dealings into account.
“It is necessary for the Committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return,” Neal wrote to Rettig.
Tax returns of private individuals are protected under federal law, but a section of the tax code allows the Ways and Means Committee to gain access to private returns for purposes of oversight. By issuing a report to Congress in the fulfillment of its oversight duties, those returns can legally become public.
In July of 2021, the Department of Justice signed off on Neal’s request to gain access to Trump’s returns, saying the committee “has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information.”
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