Democrats on the top tax-writing committee in the House voted in a closed-door meeting Tuesday to release six years of former President Trump’s tax returns — the culmination of years of efforts by Democrats to obtain Trump’s financial records and a move that Republicans say is a move. as an incentive as they take control of the House.
The returns cover the 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 IRS’s presidential audit system.
The reports are expected to be published this evening. Trump’s tax returns are being processed to remove information such as bank account and social security numbers, and that process could take several days, committee members said.
Democrats remain tight-lipped about the substance of the returns before they are released publicly since private tax returns are protected documents and the IRS has not yet completed their audits. Republican presidential committee leader Kevin Brady (Texas) said there was still no final decision on how much Trump might owe in taxes in those years.
“I think we have to leave that to the tax people,” Neal said.
But some Democrats are speaking out about what they saw in Trump’s returns.
“Trump claimed tens of thousands of dollars in losses and credits without the kind of substantiation that a normal taxpayer would provide,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a statement Tuesday. “Donald Trump had big deductions, big credits, and big losses — but rarely a big tax bill.”
“Many questions about foreign connections and conflicts remain unanswered and unknown,” he said, adding that “unquestioned aspects of Trump’s returns point to the need 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 have blasted the decision to release the returns, warning that the move will usher in a new era of revealing personal financial documents as a “political weapon”.
“This meeting really sets a terrible precedent that unleashes a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president,” Republican Ways and Means leader Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday.
“I’m not going to speculate on what the next Congress and this committee will focus on related to tax returns, but I know there will be a big focus on the IRS,” he said.
Progressive groups lobbied the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday after the decision to 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 a right to know,” said Frank Clemente, director of the nonprofit Americans for Tax Fairness. statement.
“Chairman [Richard Neal [(D-Mass.)] and the Ways and Means Democrats are to be congratulated for their pursuit of this important information. Now they must share the fruits of their labor with the American people, the ultimate 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 insisting on releasing private tax returns without a substantive assessment of the presidential audit program that is the ostensible reason for obtaining Trump’s returns. .
“Any review of the presidential audit program that begins now and ends when the GOP takes control of the House in January would be slapdash and superficial,” wrote Professor Daniel Hemel of the New York University School of Law 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 putting the courts and the public forward – if they continued 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 support years of investigative reporting that also gained access to Trump’s financial records and painted a grim picture of Trump as a businessman.
“It could be too little too late,” Steve Rosenthal, an analyst with the Brookings-Urban Tax Policy Center, said in an interview. “I expect very little, not 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 — mostly because he reported losing far more money than he made.” Trump reported a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax return, which theoretically allowed him to avoid income tax for nearly 20 years, the paper reported in 2016.
Trump broke a decades-old precedent of not releasing his tax returns during his presidential campaign, refusing to do so after taking office in 2017. Although there is no federal law requiring presidents to release their tax returns to make public, there is a presidency. audit policy by the IRS.
The rejection upset Democrats, who have blasted Trump many times during his presidency for his lack of transparency and his public image as a successful businessman.
After Democrats won the House in 2018, Neal requested Trump’s individual returns and the returns of eight of his businesses as part of an oversight investigation.
Neal told then-IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in a 2019 letter that the committee needed information about how the IRS audits US presidents as part of its internal procedures and how it places their including business.
“The Committee needs to determine the scope of any such examination and whether there is a review of underlying business activities that need to be reported on the individual income tax return,” Neal wrote to Rettig.
Individuals’ tax returns are protected under federal law, but part of the tax code allows the Ways and Means Committee to access private returns for oversight purposes. By issuing a report to Congress in the performance of its oversight duties, those returns may legally become public.
In July 2021, the Justice Department signed off on Neal’s request to access Trump’s returns, saying the committee “alleged sufficient grounds to request the former President’s tax information.”