Skip to content

House Democrats move to release Trump taxes

Report says IRS launched only one mandatory examination of his taxes while the former president was in office and completed no audits

Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., left, and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, talk Tuesday before the start of the committee’s hearing on former President Donald Trump's tax returns.
Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., left, and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, talk Tuesday before the start of the committee’s hearing on former President Donald Trump's tax returns. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Ways and Means Committee released its review of Donald Trump’s tax returns Tuesday night and was preparing to make the former president’s tax filings public in the coming days.

A report from Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., said that the IRS process for auditing presidents’ tax returns needs an overhaul. It said the agency only launched one mandatory examination while Trump was in office and completed no audits. An accompanying report from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation detailed data on Trump’s reported tax information and identified areas it believed warranted deeper review.

Neal told reporters that the committee would release Trump’s returns themselves in “a few days” because staff needed time to redact personal data. The committee gained access to six years of Trump’s individual income tax returns and filings for related business entities.

JCT’s summary showed Trump reported net federal income taxes of $0 for the 2020 tax year, $750 in multiple years and almost $1 million one year. It flagged areas that it believed warranted further review including tracing reported losses, large deductions tagged as “miscellaneous,” if substantiation was needed for charitable contributions, and whether loans to Trump’s children were disguised gifts.

Ways and Means released the reports after a 24-16 vote along party lines Tuesday evening, which followed almost four and a half hours of debate behind closed doors. The vote capped a multiyear court battle for Democrats to obtain Trump’s tax documents from the IRS and a monthlong review after committee staff got access to returns.

Neal formally requested the documents from the IRS in April 2019, when Trump was president.

Democrats produced the information on Trump’s tax filings with just days left in the current Congress and Republicans – who oppose the inquiry and making Trump’s returns public – set to take control of the House in January.

Neal emphasized that Democrats sought information on how the IRS audits presidents, and the majority’s report focused on shortcomings of the process when it came to Trump’s returns, including lacking the resources and dedicated staff to examine complex returns like Trump’s.

New legislation

Neal released a draft bill that would require audits of presidents’ tax returns within 90 days of them taking office and culminate in the IRS publishing presidents’ documents. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that the House would “move swiftly” on Neal’s legislation.

Democrats said Tuesday that they found evidence the presidential audit program wasn’t functioning and had to release Trump’s tax returns as underlying evidence. Even so, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., told reporters that Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns publicly – making him the first president since Richard Nixon to do so – created the need for oversight.

“If there has been any precedent set today, I think it needs to be noted that it was because of the unprecedented position of the last president who refused to make public his tax records,” Thompson said. “That’s the only reason that we’ve got to where we are.”

Republicans opposed the release of Trump’s returns. Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady of Texas told reporters that during the closed portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the GOP tried to refer the documents and investigation to JCT to review and report to Congress within 90 days, which would have avoided the public release. The transcript of the closed-door portion of the meeting should become public, after lawmakers agreed by voice vote to a Republican request to release it.

Brady emphasized that the audits of Trump’s returns hadn’t been completed, making it premature to draw conclusions. He also said Democrats’ move could spur further congressional pursuit of tax documents.

“The era of political targeting and of Congress’ enemies list is back and every American – every American taxpayer – who may be on the wrong side of the majority in Congress is now at risk,” Brady said.

A Ways and Means Republican seeking to succeed Brady as the committee’s next chairman, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, said in a statement that Democrats’ move gives the incoming GOP majority the authority to investigate “whether President Biden and his family have enriched themselves off the Washington Democrats’ agenda.”

Democrats pushed back on that stance, pointing to previous releases of taxpayer data by Ways and Means. The committee did so in 2014 amid a Republican probe of allegations the IRS was targeting conservative organizations during the Obama administration. Lawmakers obtained Nixon’s tax information in 1973 and 1974 under the same tax code authority.

“The notion that we’re the only ones that have ever used this flies in the face of the evidence,” Neal said.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said earlier Tuesday he’d be watching the results of Ways and Means meetings and pointed to a bill he’s introduced in the past to require sitting presidents and presidential nominees to release their tax returns publicly. “All our options are open,” he said.

Neal suggested Tuesday night that Senate Democrats could take up legislative changes, but said the House’s work on the matter was completed.

Recent Stories

Capitol Ink | Special collector series

Congress’ tech plate is full, with little time at the table

Avoid hot takes on Trump’s supposed trial of the century

Food fight continues with ‘Food, Inc. 2’

Piecemeal supplemental spending plan emerges in House

White House issues worker protections for pregnancy termination