A Democratic-led House panel voted Tuesday to release parts of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
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A House panel voted along party lines Tuesday to release former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, an unprecedented move that marks the culmination of a yearslong legal battle to disclose his financial records.
Republicans said the move underscored Democrats’ ongoing obsession with Trump, warning that the release would create a dangerous weapon that could be used against other politicians, business executives, labor leaders and even private citizens.
Democrats called the move long overdue. Unlike other modern presidents, Trump — who announced last month that he would run for president again in 2024 — has refused to release his returns, which would reveal details about the source and size of his wealth, potential financial conflicts and whether he has paid taxes in recent years.
Some legal experts questioned whether the House Ways and Means Committee has adequate legal justification to release the information to the public. Democrats argued in court that their interest in seeing Trump’s taxes was based on the need to craft legislation and that they would not simply release confidential information to the public.
But now Democrats are under pressure to act, since Republicans will take over the House in January.
After meeting privately Tuesday for more than four hours, members of the House Ways and Means Committee quickly voted to release the returns, without debate or speeches.
“This is not about being punitive. This is not about being malicious,” Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Massachusetts) said after the vote.
Neal dismissed predictions that the committee’s action would open the door to partisan attempts to release the tax returns of other prominent people. He said Americans have a right to see the tax returns of anyone serving in the highest office in the country.
“This is about the presidency. Not the president,” Neal said, adding that he plans to introduce legislation that would require audits of future presidents, including the release of tax returns.
It’s unclear exactly when and how Trump’s returns — spanning the years 2015 to 2020 — will be released.
Committee members said after the vote that it could take up to a week to redact from the documents personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers.
The committee also released a summary of Trump’s tax return information and a report on the IRS’ mandatory presidential audit program. Democrats said they were unsure if the audit program has been active during recent presidencies but argued that it was more necessary with Trump because all since Richard M. Nixon had released their returns and endured public scrutiny over them.
“I think people understand the weight of this decision,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) said in an interview. “It’s serious to release tax returns, but this is not based on any individual tax returns. This is the releasing of the tax returns for one of the most powerful individuals anywhere on the globe.”
The tax fight comes amid a rough week for the former president. On Monday, the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol unanimously recommended that Trump be prosecuted for insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, knowingly and willfully making materially false statements to the federal government and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
After Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterms, Neal requested six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns from Charles Rettig, then the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
At the time, Neal argued that the committee had a responsibility to conduct oversight to ensure that even “those elected to our highest office” are in compliance with the nation’s laws and a duty to evaluate the IRS’ administration and enforcement of tax laws.
A long series of legal battles led to the Supreme Court last month allowing the IRS to release the documents to the committee.
But even as judges have sided with the House committee’s right to inspect the confidential information, they have warned that their rulings do not authorize public release of Trump’s information.
“Public disclosure of another’s tax returns is a grave offense, and prior committee chairmen have wisely resisted using” the law “to publicize individuals’ returns,” wrote U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee, as he dismissed the former president’s lawsuit in December seeking to prevent the IRS from releasing the information.
After the high court’s Nov. 22 order affirming that decision, Neal insisted that the matter “rises above politics” and vowed to “conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.”
But the panel is short on time, with Congress set to recess this week for the remainder of the year and Republicans poised to control the House and its committees come January.
On Tuesday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote a letter to committee leaders urging the panel to provide the tax documents to the Democrat-run Senate Finance Committee.
In a news conference ahead of the committee’s vote Tuesday, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel, warned that the precedent Democrats were setting would have consequences that would extend well beyond Trump.
“Longstanding privacy protections for all taxpayers have been compromised,” Brady said. “Going forward, the majority chairman in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will have nearly unlimited power to target or make public the tax returns of private citizens — and not just private citizens: political enemies, business and labor leaders or even the returns of Supreme Court justices themselves.”
“No party in Congress should have that power. No individuals in Congress should have that power,” Brady continued. “It’s the power to embarrass, to harass or destroy Americans through disclosure of their tax returns.”
Robert Maguire, research director for CREW, the ethics watchdog, said it is important for the American public to see the returns.
Trump “fought so hard to keep these private that it raises the question of what actually is he trying to hide? At this point, we deserve answers about that,” Maguire said.
“It could just be his own vanity,” he continued. “It could be that he’s not as rich as he has been telling people for years that he is. It could be that everything is legal in there, but he didn’t pay any taxes and knows that will look bad. But it could be things that are more serious.”
Though Trump has not made his tax information public, the New York Times reported in 2020 that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and no income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years, “largely because he reported losing so much more money than he made,” the newspaper wrote.
As president, Trump was under intense scrutiny for his business practices. Foreign leaders flocked to his former Washington hotel. The House Oversight and Reform Committee released documents last month showing that six nations spent more than $750,000 at Trump International Hotel.
Brady, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, refused to speculate about how Republicans might respond to Democrats’ action but said the IRS would be a focus of the committee over the next two years.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.