- The House Committee could vote to release Trump’s tax returns or a summary or not to release them.
- Republicans have warned releasing them could jeopardize the privacy of every American’s taxes.
- Democrats have argued the tax returns could help guide lawmakers in writing tax legislation.
A House committee voted Tuesday to release at least some information from Donald Trump’s tax returns, despite Republican threats to retaliate against President Joe Biden and other Democrats.
It was not clear whether the returns themselves will be released, or summaries; it also not known exactly when the information will become public.
“This is not about being punitive,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, after a party-line vote following a closed-door debate that lasted more than four hours.
The panel had been seeking the returns since 2019 but only received them a few weeks ago giving members little time to review them and draw conclusions that could influence tax legislation before Republicans take over the House in January.
Republicans had warned releasing Trump tax information could set a dangerous precedent, but Democrats have said the information is critical to congressional oversight of the IRS and its audit policies.
The decision by the Committee on Ways and Means followed a closed-door session in which members on both sides of the aisle debated the final step in a years-long fight to obtain Trump’s tax returns despite objections and legal challenges by the former president.
A key House panel met for hours behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss releasing Donald Trump’s tax returns, a move Republicans warned could jeopardize the privacy of every American’s taxes but that Democrats argue could help guide tax law-making.
The House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., got the returns from the Treasury Department a few weeks ago after a years-long legal battle. He first asked the IRS in 2019 for copies of six years of Trump’s personal returns as well as those for his companies and a revocable trust.
Neal has had little to say publicly about the potential release of Trump’s taxes, but scheduled the meeting Tuesday, when members of the Democrat-led committee were to to decide on what to do.
The committee met briefly before it closed the meeting to the public shortly after 3 p.m. ET. Since then, lawmakers have been holding a discussion behind closed doors.
Will Trump’s taxes become public?:Here’s what to expect if a House panel votes to release them.
Here’s what’s happening now:
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the committee, asked that the meeting be closed to the public as soon as it started, noting the confidential nature of the documents under review.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, asked first that a transcript of the private session be made public later if any taxpayer information is released as a result of the hearing. The committee unanimously agreed, and Neal said it would be made available “at the appropriate time.”
The committee went into private session less than five minutes after the meeting started.
– Donovan Slack
House Ways and Means Committee Republicans would have authority under Congress’ oversight authority to seek President Joe Biden’s tax returns, said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
An IRS law enables federal lawmakers on congressional tax committees to seek presidential tax returns for a review of how the IRS conducts mandatory tax audits of the president. Ways and Means Democrats used the law to seek Trump’s returns. However, GOP lawmakers likely would not be authorized to cast a wide net, said Rosenthal.
“I don’t think (releasing Trump’s returns) opens the door for Republicans to ask for (presidential son) Hunter Biden’s tax returns,” he said. “Hunter Biden isn’t in the government.”
– Kevin McCoy
Some Democrats late Tuesday seized on a Republican warning about releasing former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, saying, in so many words: Bring it.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the lead Republican on the House committee deciding whether to release them, said before the decision that doing so would set a precedent giving power to lawmakers going forward to “target and make public the tax returns of private citizens, political enemies, business and labor leaders or even the Supreme Court justices themselves.”
Democratic political group Occupy Democrats soon took to Twitter to say that releasing the tax returns of the “Republican-controlled Supreme Court” sounds “pretty darn good.”
– Donovan Slack
Just minutes before the meeting, Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, issued one final warning to Democrats about releasing Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Future lawmakers will have “nearly unlimited power” to “make public the tax returns of private citizens,” Brady told reporters, though most legal analysts said the law will continue to shield people who are not government officials..
The Twitter account of Ways and Means Republicans explained Brady’s motion for release of a transcript: “The American people know which lawmakers in Congress support the power to target political enemies & which side w/ longstanding taxpayer protections. That’s why @RepKevinBrady called for the transcript from the secret executive session be published along w/any Committee action.”
– David Jackson
How can the House committee release Trump’s personal tax returns?
As a legal matter, attorneys cite federal law, which allows certain House and Senate committees to obtain the returns of any taxpayer, including the sitting president. The committee can then submit the information to the House or Senate for purposes of passing legislation.
In this case, committee members said they sought Trump’s records as part of an effort to write new laws regarding tax audits.
Public interest groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington are urging lawmakers to release Trump’s taxes, noting that Congress secured President Richard Nixon’s tax records in 1973, during the height of the Watergate scandal.
Tax returns should be made public “especially when you have a president in Trump who continued to operate an international business while president,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for CREW. “The American people need to know where his income was coming from.”
– David Jackson
Committee Republicans are accusing Democrats of considering a frightful precedent that could be used against anybody.
“We urge Democrats, in their rush to target former President Trump, not to unleash this dangerous new political weapon on the American people,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the committee’s top Republican.
When Republicans led the committee in 2014, they considered releasing confidential tax information. And then voted to release it. At the time, they were investigating IRS delays on applications for tax-exempt status from conservative, Tea Party groups.
They voted to release documents that contained taxpayer information as part of a referral to the Justice Department recommending prosecution of an IRS official, Lois Lerner, for allegedly targeting conservative groups for increased scrutiny, causing the delays. Justice officials declined to prosecute, saying they found evidence of mismanagement at the IRS but not criminal wrongdoing.
– David Jackson and Donovan Slack
Charles Rettig, the California-based tax law expert Trump tapped as the nation’s IRS commissioner, offered predictions in a Forbes essay he wrote in 2016, two years before his nomination.
“Teams of sophisticated tax advisers were likely engaged throughout Trump’s career to assure the absence of any ‘bombshell’ within the returns. His returns might actually be somewhat unremarkable but for the fact they are the returns of Donald Trump,” wrote Rettig.
“For wealthy individuals, individual tax returns sometimes only provide a brief financial overview linked to numerous other conclusions and entities. To fully understand the financial status of Trump, one would likely need to see returns for multiple years, the work-papers for the individual returns and the returns for numerous related entities, something that is unlikely to happen.”
– Kevin McCoy
The Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have had little time to analyze Trump’s tax returns. Moreover, Republican control of the House starts in January, and GOP lawmakers have no plans to pursue the issue. But there’s a chance the Democrat-controlled Senate might, Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said Tuesday.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairs the Senate Committee on Finance. And he’s been on record supporting the Ways and Means effort. In a July 2021 statement issued after the Department of Justice said the House committee should have access to the Trump tax returns, Wyden said he would “consult with the Ways and Means Committee and consider the (Senate) Finance Committee’s next steps.”
As the Finance Committee leader, “Sen. Wyden has all the same powers” to seek and review tax returns as part of Congress’ oversight role as Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chair of House Ways and Means panel, said Rosenthal. “He may want to wait and see what happens with Ways and Means first.”
– Kevin McCoy
Democrat blasts Trump ahead of tax-release meeting
Ahead of the meeting Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., lashed out at the former president’s “major tax avoidance.”
“It is pretty clear that Donald Trump and his organization have a major tax avoidance issue. To put it mildly,” he told CNN. “So I think there’s clearly a lot of smoke here and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Boyle is one of two dozen Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, in addition to Neal. There are 17 Republicans. Ways and Means is the oldest congressional committee and the lead tax-writing panel in the House.
– Donovan Slack and David Jackson
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, the public interest watchdog group that earlier urged public release of his tax information, fired off a letter to the committee Tuesday asking members to send Trump’s tax materials to the Senate for further investigation.
Public disclosure of his tax information would “undoubtedly” be justified, CREW’s president and CEO Noah Bookbinder wrote. “However, we are not asking you to do that today.”
“Rather, we are simply asking you to send the information to the Senate Finance Committee,” which will still be controlled by Democrats next year, for further investigation. “Mr. Trump has spent decades avoiding transparency and accountability. For the sake of our democracy, his staggering record of financial impropriety must be fully investigated and understood so that it cannot recur.”
A representative for Neal, the House committee chair, did not respond to messages seeking comment ahead of the meeting.
– Donovan Slack
Robert McKenzie, a tax law expert who’s of counsel to the Saul Ewing LLP law firm in Chicago, said tax returns sometimes contain surprising finds.
After former House Speaker Newt Gingrich released his returns in 2012, McKenzie and other lawyers told USA TODAY Gingrich used a popular tax strategy that enabled him to avoid paying Medicare tax on most of his 2010 income.
A spokesman for Gingrich, who was a presidential contender at the time, said the tax filing was handled properly and legally.
– Kevin McCoy
Trump has repeatedly opposed any release of his tax information, calling the entire process political. In a recent Truth Social post, he claimed that the records will show his business has “lots of cash, some of the greatest assets anywhere in the World, and very little debt. Also, strong on deductions and depreciation.”
“You will be seeing these numbers soon, but not all from my tax returns, which show relatively little,” he said.
Trump also claimed, “You can’t learn much from tax returns, but it is illegal to release them if they are not yours!”
– David Jackson