House committee votes to make public Donald Trump’s tax returns

The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday voted 24-16 to release Trump’s tax returns, capping a protracted legal and political battle that began when Trump was in the Oval Office.

Democrats have for more than three years pushed to make Trump’s tax returns public, and the documents were finally made available to the Ways and Means Committee late last month after the Supreme Court denied a last attempt by Trump to withhold the records.

It’s not clear when the committee would release the tax records, which include Trump’s returns from 2015 to 2020.

But two Democrats on the committee said late Tuesday that the records suggest Trump had not been correct in claiming during his 2016 campaign that he could not release the records himself because of an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a CNN interview that the committee found that the IRS only started an audit in 2019, on the same day that the committee first requested the returns. The committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), sent a written request for the returns on April 3, 2019.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) echoed those claims on MSNBC. “This is something that the American people should care about,” he said. “The American people want to know if the president of the United States is making decisions based on their interests, or the president’s own financial self-interests.”

Doggett also said the returns showed that there were “tens of millions of dollars in these returns that were claimed without adequate substantiation.”

It was not possible to immediately verify the Democrats’ allegations because the returns have not yet been released to the public.

Trump’s campaign blasted the committee’s vote as a politically motivated attack.

“This unprecedented leak by lameduck Democrats is proof they are playing a political game they are losing,” his campaign said in a statement. “If this injustice can happen to President Trump, it can happen to all Americans without cause.”

The release of Trump’s tax information is the most sweeping such actions taken by Congress in a half-century. A similar action involving a president has not occurred since 1973, when the IRS turned over President Richard Nixon’s tax returns to a congressional committee.

The IRS handed over the Nixon tax returns on the day that Congress requested them, a fact noted by House Democrats who were seeking the Trump documents. But Republicans denied any similarity, The Washington Post has reported, noting that Nixon had requested the investigation into his returns, while Trump had fought such a probe.

The committee meeting got underway just after 3 p.m. Tuesday and was immediately moved to a closed session to discuss Trump’s tax returns because of the confidential nature of the subject matter. For the sake of transparency, committee members voted by unanimous consent to make public a transcript of the closed session afterward.

Neal first sought to obtain Trump’s tax returns in 2019 after Democrats retook the House majority. Democrats argued that Congress needed to do so to evaluate the effectiveness of annual presidential audits and for the sake of oversight.

Trump—who broke with a decades-long tradition of presidential candidates and presidents by refusing to make his tax returns public—has for years falsely claimed that he could not release them while under “routine audit” by the Internal Revenue Service.

The New York Times in 2020 reported that Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, when he won the presidency, and another $750 in 2017. The Times, which obtained tax data covering more than two decades, also reported that he paid no income tax in 10 of the 15 years before he ran for president.

At the time, a Trump spokesman disputed the accuracy of the Times report and said Trump had paid tens of millions of dollars in “personal taxes” to the federal government, a vague phrase that left unclear what taxes were paid. The records obtained by the Times showed that Trump had reduced his taxes by aggressively using losses to offset income, among other methods.

Those revelations followed reporting by The Post and other organizations that showed Trump had paid little or no federal income taxes in the earlier years of his career. The Post wrote in its biography, “Trump Revealed,” that Trump paid no income taxes in 1978 and 1979, using tax deductions such as real estate depreciation that enabled him to claim a negative income of $3.8 million.

When 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton noted in a debate that Trump did not pay federal income taxes for those two years, Trump responded, “That makes me smart.” Then when Clinton speculated that Trump might not have paid “any federal income tax for a lot of years”—which turned out to be the case—Trump said the government would have “squandered” the money.

During his campaign for president, in which he frequently boasted that he was an extraordinarily wealthy and successful tycoon, Trump said that he would release his “beautiful” tax returns to back up his claims. But he said he would not make them public while he was being audited.

The legal battle between Trump and the Ways and Means Committee played out in the courts for years, continuing even after Trump left office. But last month, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the House committee to examine Trump’s tax returns, without stating a reason for denying Trump’s request to withhold the records.

“We knew the strength of our case, we stayed the course, followed the advice of counsel, and finally, our case has been affirmed by the highest court in the land,” Neal said in a statement then. “Since the Magna Carta, the principle of oversight has been upheld, and today is no different. This rises above politics, and the Committee will now conduct the oversight that we’ve sought for the last three and a half years.”

Trump and his Republican allies have criticized the effort to obtain his tax returns as a partisan attack, and warned that Congress making the former president’s returns public after he has left office would violate separation of powers.

“Let me be clear: Our concern is not whether the president should have made his tax returns public, as is traditional, nor about the accuracy of his tax returns,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said Tuesday shortly before the Ways and Means Committee meeting began. “Our concern is that, if taken, this committee action will set a terrible precedent that unleashes a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president.”

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