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Ways and Means will meet to review private tax documents

Meeting to be held under same statute Democrats used to obtain former President Donald Trump's tax returns

Reps. James R. Comer, R-Ky., left, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, conduct a news conference on the investigation into the Biden family's “influence peddling to enrich themselves,” in the Capitol Visitor Center on May 10.
Reps. James R. Comer, R-Ky., left, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, conduct a news conference on the investigation into the Biden family's “influence peddling to enrich themselves,” in the Capitol Visitor Center on May 10. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Hours after court filings revealed Hunter Biden, the president’s son, agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion charges, the House Ways and Means Committee announced it would meet to discuss confidential tax information related to a “high-profile individual.”

Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., scheduled a meeting at 8 a.m. on Thursday to consider “documents protected under Internal Revenue Code section 6103,” which includes personal tax returns and related information. It’s the same statute that the Ways and Means panel under Democratic control last year invoked to review, and ultimately release to the public, former President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

“Ways and Means Committee members have received multiple whistleblower reports of misconduct at the IRS and other agencies regarding interference and government abuse in the handling of a matter involving a high-profile individual,” Smith said in a statement. “If the federal government is not treating all taxpayers equally, Congress has a duty to hold agencies accountable by providing transparency and bringing new facts to light.”

[Hunter Biden agrees to plead guilty on tax evasion charges]

In April, Smith announced the committee received a letter from an IRS employee alleging mishandling of a high-profile case. The Wall Street Journal reported that the letter raised concerns about the Biden administration’s handling of a probe into Hunter Biden’s taxes.

The IRS employee who sent the letter, Gary Shapley, told CBS in May that he believed the case was handled differently from the normal process and multiple steps had been slow-walked at the Justice Department’s direction.

House Republicans have also pressed the IRS on allegations of retaliation against the employee who came forward. Smith and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sent letters on Tuesday to inspectors general at the Justice Department and IRS demanding information on investigations into the retaliation claim.

IRS spokespeople weren’t immediately available for comment.

Ways and Means’ meeting notice went out midday Tuesday, hours after news broke that Hunter Biden agreed to plead guilty to two charges of misdemeanor tax evasion and enter a pretrial diversion agreement on a firearm possession charge.

Several Republicans dismissed the charges as a “slap on the wrist,” including House Oversight Chairman James R. Comer, R-Ky., who said the charges and “sweetheart plea deal” would have no impact on GOP-led investigations.

Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement after the court documents’ release that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden “love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life.” Sams added the White House will have no further comment.

Section 6103 of the tax code safeguards the privacy of tax returns and related personal tax information. It also allows chairs of the tax committees to obtain tax documents.

Smith said in his statement that on Thursday, Ways and Means members will “follow where the facts lead and will release the appropriate details afterward.”

Meetings in which the panel discusses protected taxpayer information are typically held behind closed doors, but the committee could vote to make documents or reports public.

That’s what happened in December, when Ways and Means Democrats voted to release Trump’s tax returns. After a yearslong court battle to obtain the filings, Ways and Means members met for about four and a half hours behind closed doors before taking a party-line vote to release Trump’s returns publicly.

Democrats said they’d found shortfalls in how the IRS audits presidential tax returns and that all presidents should have to release their tax data publicly, after Trump broke from the norm.

Republicans said the move was politically motivated. Smith, who was running for the Ways and Means gavel at the time, said in a statement that it paved the way for the Ways and Means GOP’s investigations of the Biden family.

“Come January, Democrats will only have themselves to blame for this new precedent, as they have now given the incoming Republican majority the clear authority to use tools at the committee’s disposal to investigate whether President Biden and his family have enriched themselves off the Washington Democrats’ agenda,” Smith said in December.

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