Congressional body votes to release Trump’s tax returns

A House panel on Tuesday voted along the party line to release former President Trump’s tax returns, an unprecedented move that marks the culmination of a year-long legal battle over the disclosure of his financial records.

Republicans said the move underscored Democrats’ ongoing obsession with Trump and warned the release would create a dangerous weapon that could be used against other politicians, businessmen, union leaders and even private individuals.

The 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 statements, which detail the source and size of his wealth, potential financial conflicts and whether he pays taxes has paid would disclose in previous years.

Some legal experts questioned whether the House Ways and Means Committee had adequate legal justification to release the information to the public. The Democrats argued in court that their interest in Trump’s taxes was based on the need to draft legislation and that they would not easily release confidential information to the public.

But now the Democrats are under pressure to act as the Republicans are set to take over the House of Representatives in January.

After meeting privately for more than four hours Tuesday, members of the House Ways and Means Committee quickly voted to release the tax returns without debate or speeches.

“This is not about punishment. This is not about being malicious,” said Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) after the vote.

Neal dismissed predictions that the committee’s action would open the door to partisan attempts to release other prominent figures’ tax returns. He said Americans have the right to see the tax returns of anyone who serves in the country’s highest office.

“This is about the presidency. Not the president,” Neal said, adding that he plans to introduce legislation that would require scrutiny of future presidents, including the release of tax returns.

It’s unclear when and how Trump’s return – which spans the years 2015 to 2020 – will be released.

Committee members said after the vote it could take up to a week to remove personal information, such as Social Security and bank account numbers, from the documents.

The committee also released a summary of Trump’s tax return information and a report on the president’s mandatory audit program of the IRS. Democrats said they weren’t sure if the audit program had been active during past presidencies, but argued it was more necessary with Trump since Richard M. Nixon has published their returns and subjected them to public scrutiny.

“I think people understand the weight of this decision,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) said in an interview. “It’s legitimate to file tax returns, but that’s not based on any individual tax returns. This is the tax return release for one of the most powerful people in the world.”

The tax fight comes amid a tough week for the former president. On Monday, the House panel examined the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol attack unanimously recommended that Trump be criminally charged with insurgency, obstructing official sessions of Congress, knowingly and intentionally materially misrepresenting the federal government, and conspiring to defraud the United States to pursue.

After Democrats gained control of the House in midterms 2018, Neal requested Charles Rettig, then commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, to keep Trump’s personal and business tax returns for six years.

At the time, Neal argued that the committee had a responsibility to exercise oversight to ensure that even “those elected to our highest office” obeyed the laws of the country and had a duty to administer and enforce tax laws evaluated by the IRS.

A long string of legal battles last month led to the Supreme Court allowing the IRS to release the documents to the committee.

But even as the judges have championed the right of the House of Representatives committee to see the confidential information, they have warned that their rulings do not authorize the public release of Trump’s information.

“Disclosing someone else’s tax returns is a serious misdemeanor, and past committee chairmen have prudently opposed using ‘the law’ to release individuals’ tax returns,” wrote U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump-appointed representative, when he issued the Former President’s lawsuit dismissed in December to prevent the IRS from releasing the information.

After the High Court of 11. Upholding that decision, Neal insisted the matter was “above politics” and vowed to “exercise the oversight that we have sought for the last three and a half years”.

But the panel has little time as Congress is on hiatus this week for the remainder of the year and Republicans are poised to take control of the House and its committees in January.

On Tuesday, the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics wrote a letter to committee chairs asking the panel to make the tax documents available to the Democrat-led Senate Finance Committee.

In a news conference ahead of the committee’s vote on Tuesday, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel, warned that the precedent Democrats would set would have consequences far beyond Trump would go out.

“Longstanding privacy for all taxpayers has been compromised,” Brady said. “In the future, the majority chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will have almost unlimited powers to attack or publish the tax returns of individuals – and not just individuals: political enemies, business and union leaders, or even the statements of the judges of the… Supreme Court itself.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, warned that Democrats are setting a dangerous precedent if they vote to release former President Trump’s tax returns.

(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

“No party in Congress should have that power. No person in Congress should have that power,” Brady continued. “It is the power to embarrass, harass or destroy Americans by disclosing their tax returns.”

Robert Maguire, research director for CREW, the ethics watchdog, said it’s important for the American public to see the results.

Trump “fought so hard to keep this private that it begs the question, what is he actually trying to hide? At this point, we deserve answers to that,” Maguire said.

“It might just be his own vanity,” he continued. “It could be that he’s not as rich as he’s been telling people for years. Everything might be legal there, but he hasn’t paid any taxes and knows it’s going to look bad. But it could be things that are more serious.”

Although Trump has not released his tax information, The New York Times reported in 2020 that he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and paid no income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years, “largely because he reported so.” losing 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 six nations spent more than $750,000 at the Trump International Hotel.

Brady, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, declined to speculate on how Republicans might respond to Democrat action, but said the IRS will be a focus of the committee over the next two years.

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