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Trump tax returns made public after lengthy legal battle

The culmination of a three-year court fight comes just as Democrats' window of opportunity was set to close

Boxes of documents are wheeled into the House Ways and Means Committee meeting room before the start of the panel’s hearing on former President Donald Trump's tax returns on Dec. 20.
Boxes of documents are wheeled into the House Ways and Means Committee meeting room before the start of the panel’s hearing on former President Donald Trump's tax returns on Dec. 20. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday released six years of former President Donald Trump’s individual income tax returns as well as filings from multiple Trump business entities.

The move wraps up a three-year court battle from Ways and Means’ Democratic majority to obtain the returns and comes just days before Republicans take control of the House.

The filings (committee zip files) show that Trump and his wife, Melania, reported losses and owing $750 or less in federal income tax in most tax years from 2015 through 2020. Only in 2018 and 2019 did they report any taxable income and pay higher income taxes.

The couple’s total tax liability also included other charges, like a self-employment tax that increased what they owed, with the total ranging from $271,973 in 2020 to almost $2.1 million in 2018, an analysis of the returns from the Joint Committee on Taxation found.

The JCT’s review of the documents — released by Ways and Means Democrats last week — identified a range of areas that the nonpartisan committee said warranted further review by auditors, including verifying losses carried from previous tax years, whether substantiation was provided for large charitable deductions and whether loans to Trump’s children were disguised gifts.

[House Democrats move to release Trump taxes]

Trump was the first president since Richard M. Nixon not to release details on his taxes publicly. Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., first formally requested his returns in 2019 and turned to the courts after the Treasury Department declined the request during the Trump administration and Trump later intervened to block the effort.

After a legal battle that outlasted Trump’s presidency, the Supreme Court cleared the way in November for Neal to obtain the documents from the IRS.

Ways and Means Democrats then voted last week to make Trump’s tax documents public, along with reports from the panel and JCT. They ultimately wrapped up the effort just days before Republicans — who largely oppose it — take control of the House in January.

Democrats have argued they needed to review and make public Trump’s tax returns as part of an examination of the IRS’ mandatory presidential audit process, which they found largely didn’t begin until Neal wrote to the agency in 2019 and remains unfinished nearly two years after Trump left office.

Neal proposed a bill to mandate swift audits and regular public disclosure on the process, as well as to require Treasury to make presidents’ tax returns public. It passed the House late last week with support from all Democrats and five Republicans but has no path to becoming law before the GOP takes the House majority.

Republicans mostly argued the push for Trump’s returns and decision to make them public was part of a partisan attack on the former president that could lead Congress to seek more tax information solely for political purposes in the future.

Ways and Means’ top Republican, Kevin Brady of Texas, told reporters after the vote to release the returns that Trump’s filings are complex and that the sort of issues raised for review by JCT are typical of business groups dealing in real estate.

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