Congress to Make Trump’s Taxes Public
House Democrats are releasing them because they can.
NBC News (“House committee votes to make public Donald Trump’s personal and business tax records“):
The House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to make six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns public — potentially ending years of speculation about what they might reveal about his business dealings and personal wealth.
The panel voted along party lines to make the returns available and information could be available as soon as Wednesday — the day the House Jan. 6 committee is set to issue its final report on the riot at the U.S. Capitol — which will be the final days of Democratic control of Congress before Republicans take over the House in January.
Later Tuesday, the committee released a 29-page report summarizing its investigation into an IRS policy that mandates audits of returns filed by presidents and vice presidents. The committee found that the IRS had largely not followed its own internal requirement, only beginning to examine Trump’s returns after the panel inquired about the process. Just one year of Trump’s returns while in office was selected for the mandatory review, and the audit was not complete by the time he left the White House, according to the report.
A separate 39-page report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, or JCT, released Tuesday night included summaries from Trump’s personal tax forms and business entities.
For example, in 2019, the last year that the committee obtained records, Trump appeared to owe nothing in taxes, according to the JCT report. That was thanks to Trump claiming $15 million in business losses, which resulted in him having negative $4 million in adjusted gross income. Trump then claimed a $5 million refund, the report says.
The committee report listed several overarching issues it believed the IRS should have investigated but did not. For example, Trump claimed large cash donations to charities but the report said the IRS did not verify them. Additionally, Trump’s tax filings were large and complicated, but the IRS did not assign experts to work on the audit at the request of the then-president’s lawyer who argued including more agents could compromise the confidentiality of the documents.
Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., said the more detailed returns will likely be made public later this week. “The actual returns themselves will also be transmitted to the full House and become public, but I was told it will take a few days to a week in order to redact some info that needs to be redacted,” Boyle said.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Trump’s returns were subject to scant oversight by the IRS, even though all presidents are supposed to be subject to automatic audits. “For all practical purposes the research that was done as it relates to the mandatory audit program was nonexistent. The tax forms were really never audited, and only my sending a letter at one point, prompted sort of a rear view response,” Neal said during a news conference after the vote.
Neal has proposed legislation to codify the mandatory audit policy into law, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised in a statement Tuesday. “The Ways & Means Committee’s report makes clear the legislative steps that must now be taken to guard the public trust, and we will move swiftly to advance Chairman Richard Neal’s legislation requiring the Internal Revenue Service to conduct an annual audit of the president’s finances,” Pelosi said.
I continue to believe that making Trump’s tax returns, which the Committee was only able to access through its subpoena power, public is a gross abuse of power.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking member, criticized the Democrats’ move and said committee members did not know “exactly what we are releasing” when they voted.
The move to release Trump’s tax records could spark threats of some sort of retaliation from Republicans, who have already vowed to launch probing investigations into President Joe Biden and his family. Some Republicans have already accused Neal of seeking the returns solely for political reasons.
Neal defended the vote immediately afterward.
“This was not about being punitive, it was not about malicious, and there were no leaks from the committee,” he said. “We adhered carefully to the law.”
Brady told reporters ahead of the meeting that Democrats were pushing an “unprecedented action that will jeopardize the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress.”
“No party in Congress should hold that power. It is the power to embarrass, harass or destroy a private citizen through disclosure of their tax returns,” Brady said.
Brady is right here.
The Committee had a legitimate legislative purpose in accessing the records and achieved it. They found that the IRS did not adequately audit Trump’s record while he was President, despite legal requirements to do so. Presumably, there will be consequences for that via the oversight process. Additionally, they’re hoping to strengthen said law so that this doesn’t happen again. All to the good.
None of that requires making the records, which Trump has every right to keep private, public. It’s a malicious act by Democrats on the Committee to embarrass a political opponent. There’s simply no other explanation.
Neal had maintained he needed to review the returns for “policy, not politics.”
“The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately. In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities,” Neal said in a statement in April 2019.
Again: that’s right. But the Committee has conducted its review. It has the ability to exercise its oversight power over the IRS. It has the ability to write informed legislation. What legislative purpose is furthered by releasing the records?
Indeed, there’s precedent here:
The head of the Joint Committee on Taxation requested several years of then-President Richard Nixon’s tax returns in 1973 and 1974, as well as returns for first lady Pat Nixon and their daughter and son-in-law.
The committee’s eventual report on Nixon’s taxes included a copy of returns that Nixon had already made public, but not the earlier returns. The report did make reference to some of the information it had collected from those earlier returns.
I am, to say the least, not a fan of Trump. To the extent releasing his returns is embarrassing to him and damaging to his aspirations of regaining the Presidency, I’m pleased with the outcome. But process matters.
After years of railing at Trump for violating norms, House Democrats are abusing the trust of their office here in an egregious way. And, quite naturally, this will set a precedent for further abuses.
A Daily Beast report on the vote contains this explanation:
Following the vote, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the committee chairman, said that the decision was not “punitive” or “malicious.” Committee member Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) explained the importance of releasing the documents was one of transparency, saying members of the public “need to see the returns themselves.”
“It’s about one office: the presidency,” she added. “It’s about making sure there are checks and balances for the presidency.”
There are all manner of “checks and balances for the presidency.” Many of them were put there by the Framers. The Ways and Means Committee’s investigation into the IRS audits, or lack thereof, is tangential to one of them. Releasing private information, however, is not.
Now, it seems perfectly reasonable that the President’s taxes be public record. It has been a longstanding norm—going back half a century—that Presidents and major party nominees for President release their returns voluntarily. I would be happy for it to be a legal requirement. It is, however, not. If Congress wants to change that, they have the tools to do so.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the committee’s highest-ranking Republican member, similarly attacked the outcome of the vote. He told reporters just prior to Tuesday’s meeting that the disclosure would present “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president and overturns decades of privacy protections for average Americans that have existed since the Watergate reform,” according to CNN.
He’s surely right.
Condemning the “unprecedented leak by lameduck Democrats” in a statement to The Daily Beast, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung warned, “If this injustice can happen to President Trump, it can happen to all Americans without cause.”
He also called for the release of tax data on “Nancy Pelosi and her weirdo husband Paul to see how much dirty money they have made from selling out America and jeopardizing our national security.”
But, presumably, a Republican-headed committee could in fact launch an investigation into the Pelosis’ finances on some pretext. Having done so, they would surely release the returns. And why not, really? Doesn’t the public have a right to know?
Indeed, while releasing tax returns has been a longstanding norm for Presidents and demanded of those seeking confirmation to various high-level appointed positions in the Executive branch, it is not a standard Congress has applied to itself. It may well be time to change that.
Regardless, it should be achieved through normal order, not cynical abuses of power like this.
Nonsense. As you put it – almost at the end of the post – “…while releasing tax returns has been a longstanding norm for Presidents and demanded of those seeking confirmation to various high-level appointed positions in the Executive branch…”. There was a big noise back in 2016 when Trump refused to follow his predecessors’ actions, and this is not something that Congress just invented.
You know the whole point of the gesture was to show Americans a level of transparency on behalf of those who would hold the highest positions of government, that it was not required by law but was a voluntary display because they trusted the American people. Trump has had six years to do that – he chose not to. Pardon me for not caring about his feelings on this.
Time and again Trump abused normal order.
He is now being gored by his own ox.
Normally I would not be in favor of these types of shenanigans, but the Rs went first and it would be silly for the Ds to sit back and “go high” when they go low. That is the game that Trump played, and the Ds lost.
Of course there’s another explanation. Trump swore many times that he’d release his tax records but he couldn’t because they were under audit. He was still spouting this nonsense in 2020. Since the democrats can’t unilaterally change the law and the GOP senate won’t go along with it, they’re making clear that if you run for president, your records will be made public, even if there isn’t a law requiring it (yet).
Oh yes, the house GOP will certainly show restraint in abusing their investigative powers. Let me know when you tire of year 5 of the “Hunter Biden laptop scandal investigation”
The doomsday scenario the Republicans keep hyping is that now anyone’s taxes could be released — “even Supreme Court justices!”
To which I say, Supreme Court justices first. If we’re going to be ruled by nine unelected jurists who are completely unaccountable to the public in any way and have zero respect for the rule of law — besides “the law is what we say and what you follow” — then we should at least be able to see who is paying them for their opinions and how much.
@wr: To that doomsday scenario I ask – what would be the downside of everyone’s taxes being public information? I certainly wouldn’t care if everyone could look mine up. In fact, when I worked in government, my name and salary were on a public website for anybody to see, if they cared – and they didn’t.
Good. Trump lied about his taxes, his business deals, his monetary acumen, and so much more. It’s time to reconcile the man to the truth of the many important matters that mark his term as our nation’s president.
I was wondering about this as well. It seems like a move that has no other real purpose other than to embarrass Trump. I just don’t know what theory they are using to get away with it under the color of law.
Having said that, I think all politicians should have to make income taxes public when they take public office. So if this devolves into everyone showing their undies I’m really not all that upset about it as long as it stays confined to public servants.
What I didn’t know is the requirement for presidents to have their taxes audited if they are not released to the public. Why wasn’t that law followed and why is there no accountability here? Why did the IRS just lay down and not do their job?
The more we get into this situation with Trump the more I’m convinced that the complete and utter lack of any policing or accountability of the wealthy and powerful with regards to taxes, businesses dealings, and other self-dealing is NOTHING SHORT OF STUNNING. I had always cynically assumed that the power of the wealthy to avoid prosecution was largely based on the ability to pay legal fees and hire teams of lawyers. But it’s so much more than that. Just the idea that people like Pence are pushing that in the name of “unity” we should let people off the hook is starting to look insane and anything but the “blind justice” most people assume. People in these agencies are scared witless to even look into it due to threats and intimidation and it’s not that hard to do apparently. All it takes is the narcissistic will.
Trump violatd norms by lying and fomenting insurrection. Democrats violate norms by exposing the lies of the leader and figurehead of said insurrection in an attempt to prevent the next one.
This is crucial context, no?
Shorter James Joyner: “After Republicans violated every norm there is, Democrats must still uphold every norm there is, even to the likely detriment of our democratic system of government.”
I get that “the end justifies the means” can lead to nasty outcomes, but “the means are more deserving of respect than the end” is pretty insane, TBH – especially if the other side threw respect for both means and end out of the window already.
It is a quixotic and entirely unworldly way of looking at things. Although I suspect that only Democrats are held to such lofty standards.
Assuming the IRS can show that all previous Presidents’ returns were audited, the fact that only one year of Trump’s was partially audited should serve as prima facie evidence that someone in the highest echelons of the Federal government put pressure on the IRS to shirk its legal responsibility. If this is so, does anyone have any doubt as to the source of the pressure?
By going the “he’s a private citizen” route in this post, you’ve essentially advocated for a path wherein future candidates can skirt around norms.
It wasn’t acceptable for him to refuse to release his tax returns when he was a candidate, full stop.
This is proforma now because it shows voters where the potential conflicts of interest are. He never should have been allowed to do this.
This ex post facto release is an attempt to return to norms.
Or, I suppose that Republicans would be okay if future Democratic candidates for president shielded their personal returns like this? So, we’re all okay with a wealthy Dem private citizen just saying “nope” and leaving it at that? Come on.
I agree with James that this was an abuse of political power. Would the GOP do the same in a similar situation? Sure, but still doesnt make it right. That said I do like the idea that tax returns should be made public for all national level officials, Congress, SCOTUS, Exec branch including the Cabinet.
@Not the IT Dept.: I don’t care about Trump’s feelings, either. I care about Congress releasing a citizen’s tax records that he has every right to keep private.
@Crusty Dem: @Chris:
@Jen: There is no requirement whatsoever for candidates to release their tax information. If voters think their failure to do so is a sign that they’re hiding something, they’re free to not vote for them.
@drj: I’ve written dozens, if not hundreds, of posts criticizing Trump’s various misdeeds. I think Trump should go to prison for his part in the Capitol Riots. That this abuse of power is considerably less egregious than fomenting insurrection doesn’t mean it’s not worth calling out.
@wr: @Tony W: Again, I’m fine with requiring fuller financial disclosure as a condition of holding high office. It’s within Congress’ purview to pass such a law.
Bullshit Dr. Joyner.
Trump himself promised, multiple times, to release his taxes. He lied. Repeatedly.
No. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
I know there’s no requirement. But there should be, but I think that would likely run up against the qualifications for office established in the Constitution.
It infuriates me how much this man has been permitted to get away with, his foreign entanglements, and god knows what else buried in his likely not totally above board tax returns.
I really fear it will haunt us at some point in the future.
Now the Republicans can release all the documents for the IRS targeting of tea party groups that the Democrats stonewalled and hid with the excuse of protecting taxpayers privacy .
I pondered the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic, the Jacobin Terror, the White Terror, Stalin’s purges, and other notable episodes of norm-breaking.
But I wound up with the Robot Santa Principle:
“Gangsters beating up a shopkeeper for protection money. Very naughty.
Shopkeeper refusing to pay protection money. Exactly as naughty!”
The question here is whether releasing the tax returns of the leader/figurehead of an attempted coup is a proportionate political response to a likely second coup attempt.
If your answer is “no,” then you clearly have no sense of what is at stake,
Perhaps because you feel safe knowing that the righties won’t be coming for you. (Not initially, in any case.)
Want to see my tax return? OK. How exactly would all this embarrassment and destruction occur? Revealing tax returns doesn’t destroy anything but bullshit. If you’ve been claiming you make more money than you do, mild embarrassment might ensue. But destruction? WTF is he talking about?
I’m sorry, where is this right found in the constitution?
It’s worth noting the government agency that can hurt you most by seeing your tax return, is the one which already has it: the IRS.
That aside, keeping financial records private, including tax returns, is a common tactic when hiding assets in divorce proceedings, from creditors, from business partners, etc.
Honestly? 4A, 5A, and 9A.
It’s called a “right to privacy” (and the forgotten “enumeration does not limit your rights” that sits in the 9th). It’s the same reasoning that’s been used to back Roe (RIP), Lawrence, Obergefel, and plenty of others.
Of course the majority on the current SC aren’t very high on ‘privacy.’
Let’s assume it is Speaker McCarthy releasing the tax records of Justice Breyer after an investigation into possible abuse and fraud by the Justice.
I’m not seeing any abuse of power. Bringing to light relevant information, informing the citizenry of credible tax fraud and prior abuse seems very much part of the Constitutional power of Congress.
Privacy isn’t unconditional and public figures have the least claim to it. The release of the information seems like it turns on whether the information is relevant to the public interest, and in this case I think it very much is.
I want to add I figured yesterday the Ways and Means committee would vote to release the Cheeto returns, because the pig didn’t squeal too loudly when the Jan 6 committee made its referrals to the DOJ.
For example, Trump claimed large cash donations to charities but the report said the IRS did not verify them.
What are the odds that Trump simply lied about this and took a fake deduction on his taxes? At the very least this needs to be verified to see if it’s true.
If not, I don’t expect anything serious to happen to Trump despite the fact that if a “Regular Guy” did in fact do this, they’d end up in jail.
Lastly, if Trump has funds in foreign banks e.g. Saudi or Russian, hopefully this would reveal it. It won’t happen with a Republican Congress but eventually laws should be put in place requiring tax transparency and no foreign banking…eventually.
@Mu Yixiao: I was asking honestly, although perhaps snarkily. As to your assertions, I don’t think 4A applies. That’s about unreasonable searches and seizures, and your tax returns are something the government already has. They’re not searching for anything, nor seizing anything. I don’t think 5A applies either, as release of government documents is not self-incrimination, and I don’t see Trump being deprived of liberty or property in this, much less without due process of law if you feel he is. Now, it certainly should be considered to be in 9A, but that doesn’t seem to be the case per SCOTUS. All those cases you mention got their right to privacy via 14A, and just as Roe has fallen the rest will go as well once the appropriate cases present themselves.
I’m leaning away from “teh public has a right to know” not because the public has no such right but rather that the public has limited ability to analyze what they will be reading thus reducing their “right to know” more to a “right to be told what to think” by various entities, not limited to people who are capable of making lucid interpretations of what is there. That said, Congress has the power and calling for it to avoid creating an abuse of power seems a day late and a dollar short. That train left the station long time back.
I don’t think this is the perceived hazard in the minds of the public the author wishes it was–as wr has already noted. Laissez les bons temps roullez!
I’m with Joyner on this one. There SHOULD be a law requiring public disclosure for certain officials. I’d extend that to Congress and the Supremes as well. But no such law exists.
The IRS SHOULD be held accountable for not doing the proper audits, and hopefully this will lead to reforms. That does not require releasing anyone’s returns.
The right to privacy is under enough attack from the Supremes; Congress saying they don’t care about it either is not going to help (possibly frustrating side effect, watching the Court tie itself in knots creating a right to privacy *around taxes only* in the inevitable lawsuits).
Trump is a narcissistic psychopath and needs to be kept away from the Presidency. Is releasing his returns the best way to do that, even solely from a political point of view? I have serious doubts. It allows him to squeal and play his victimization defense again, vindicates every statement over the last several years that giving Congress information just means giving it to everyone since not only does it leak like a colander they will happily use it to embarrass opponents while sanctimoniously blathering about oversight, and none of his serious fans will care about the released returns anyway (or believe they are even real). Trump has done more damage to himself via the ludicrous NFT release than this ever will. The stench of being a loser is starting to stick, DeSantis is polling ahead of him, Jan 6th recommendations to Congress are dominating headlines and Trump is flailing wildly…why allow the subject to be changed when your enemy is busy immolating themselves?
The fact that they guy having his information released is a maniac I despise and an unprecedented breaker of “norms” does not mean those norms have no value. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that. Add to the fact that I think it’s also a bad move politically and this is just juvenile, middle-finger giving, revenge. Yeah, it’s emotionally satisfying to people who already despise him to see yet more evidence that he’s nothing but a con artist who has lied about his wealth and business acumen like he’s lied about everything else–but we already knew that. You can’t seriously think that THIS is what is going to turn his remaining fans away? Instead he gets to complain about being persecuted again, and regardless of what members of this comment section think, a whole lot of people are going to instinctively agree with him that their finances should be private and that such beloved organizations as the IRS and Congress should not be releasing that information about anyone.
Stupid, stupid move by the D’s here. Their most hardcore supporters will cheer, independents will hate it, and the attack lines by Republicans write themselves. Dumb.
@Just Another Ex-Republican: I suspect that MAGAts won’t understand, or even read whatever is released, but they will alternately condemn the leaks and revel in whatever accusations of impropriety will be made, claiming that the improprieties shown are only jealousy over what “a smart businessman” FG actually is. But we’ve been on that bus ride with them before.
@Just Another Ex-Republican:
What if the IRS rationale for not having done the audit is that they lack the resources, and we are effectively at a spot where complicated returns effectively cannot be audited?
That would require releasing a return as an example.
And it’s what one of the folks on the committee was saying.
@Gustopher: The IRS got a budget increase for enforcement earlier this year (which I consider a good thing). But it makes it silly to argue they needed to release a public example now to get an increase they had already successfully argued for and gotten.
And even if they did want to release examples of complex returns there are plenty of ways to do so without releasing the returns of a single identifiable taxpayer who happens to be a political opponent and even though he’s a slimeball. Anonymizing mass data is basically routine these days.
Everyone here knows the difference between evidence of a systemic problem and anecdotes. Releasing any single person’s returns is just an anecdote if you want to argue returns have gotten too complicated for the IRS to audit. How many audit hours do super-complex returns like Trump’s take on average? How many do the IRS conduct? How often do they find issues requiring correction? We already know Trump has been involved in one audit since what, 2010? That’s absurd. How many other audits are taking so long, and is Trump an outlier even within that group or not? You can provide plenty of examples of what tax filers do to make things complex and difficult to audit without releasing any specific return, and maybe move the conversation to what in our tax code is being taken advantage of to stymie the IRS. But dumping Trump’s tax returns just before you lose control of the House committees? It stinks.
If you specifically want to claim the IRS didn’t audit the Presidential returns properly (an argument I’ve seen) and allege there was White House interference stopping the IRS from auditing, you should present evidence of how much audit work went into Bush Jr and Obama’s yearly audits and compare it to what was done when Trump was President. Which again, does not require releasing the actual returns. You could even have made some political points by pointedly protecting Trumps actual returns, and argue that you are proving it was just about oversight by releasing such a report while still protecting the private financials of a hated political opponent.
This was just spite. And I get it, I feel nothing but contempt for the waste of DNA that Trump represents, and showing him in a bad light feels good. But I expect better of our country’s leaders than giving in to such juvenile impulses. Especially when it’s such a political blunder. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with 2 institutions more hated in this country than the IRS and Congress. Almost everyone considers their financial information private and just instinctively recoils when those “those b******* in Congress or the IRS” cooperate to release someone’s information (even someone they don’t like). It’s visceral. And stupid political malpractice (again; I will never understand how Democrats can be so solid on basic policy, and so inept on the art of politics itself). The talking point until the next boneheaded move by someone will simply be “Democrats in Congress are releasing tax returns of their political opponents!” I’d far rather keep mocking NFT memes, which did far more damage to Trump’s political prospects than his returns ever will.