The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol voted to release Donald Trump’s tax information to the public, capping a three-year legal saga initiated by Democrats to obtain and release the former president’s closely held financial documents.
In his first three years as president, Donald J. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes before paying no tax as his income dwindled and losses once again mounted in 2020, according to tax data released by a House committee.
The data, which includes details of Trump’s federal tax returns from 2015 through his full term in the White House, shows that he began his presidency suffering large business losses and paid almost nothing in income tax. But in 2018, he reported $24.3 million in gross income and paid $1 million in federal tax.
Trump’s tax returns show that he was in the black the following year as well, reporting $4.4 million in income and paying $133,445 in tax. But in 2020, as the country staggered under the pandemic, his finances reversed course: Trump reported a loss of $4.8 million and zero income tax.
The fresh details of Trump’s taxes emerged from two reports released by the House Ways and Means Committee, which had waged a legal battle to obtain the records from the Internal Revenue Service that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The reports contain the committee’s summation of its findings but not the raw tax returns, which are expected to be released in coming days.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal released a report about the Internal Revenue Service’s audits of Trump’s taxes, but the actual tax returns will be made public in a few days after the redaction of personal information, such as Social Security numbers.
The documents released include a report summarising Trump’s personal and business income and tax payments from 2015 through 2020, showing that he and his companies lost millions of dollars during some of the years he was running for president and in the White House. The report, prepared by the non-partisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, calls into question the validity of several deductions Trump claimed, including some unsubstantiated charitable donations, loans to his children that may be taxable gifts, and questionable business expenses.
The committee report noted that there were fewer documents than expected for an audit as complex as Trump’s. In 2020, there were no audit files at all. Action by the Ways and Means Committee — over the objections of the panel’s Republicans — comes in the waning days of the House Democratic majority and one day after another House panel recommended that Trump face criminal prosecution in connection with the Capitol insurrection.
The panel, which has an eight-seat Democratic majority, agreed on a party-line vote to release information from Trump’s personal and business tax returns from 2015 to 2020. Democrats first requested the documents in 2019 to help aid an investigation into the annual audit of presidents. After a lengthy court battle, the Ways and Means Committee obtained the financial filings late last month.
The vote to release the taxes on Tuesday and a criminal referral from the panel investigating Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Monday follow a bad six-week stretch for Trump politically, during which he was blamed for the GOP’s disappointing midterm election results and had what critics called a lackluster 2024 campaign launch marred by controversies.
“This was not about being punitive, this was not about being malicious,” Neal said about the committee’s decision to pursue and release the information. Neal said that the IRS, which has a policy of annually auditing the president and vice president, failed to sufficiently audit Trump while he was president.
“There weren’t any audits that took place. It was dormant,” Neal told reporters about the IRS’s presidential audit program.
Neal said he has introduced a bill that would compel the IRS to conduct an audit of a president within 90 days of taking the oath. He said the meager review of Trump’s tax returns is indicative of a larger problem at the agency where there aren’t enough resources and specialized tax auditors to examine the finances of wealthy Americans.
“The IRS only had one agent on, you know, 400 pass-through returns. And so it’s like no surprise that they did a very shallow, shallow audit, at least so far,” Representative Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, told reporters. “So there’s the notion of if you’re going to do it on someone with a tax return that complex, you’re going to need to devote the resources.”
Texas Representative Kevin Brady, the committee’s top Republican, said that Democrats are making a mistake in publicly releasing the tax documents of a leader of the opposing political party. He said that Republicans support Neal’s underlying goal to ensure that presidents are audited.
“The point that we made very clearly is, if this seriously was their goal, to make sure that the presidential audit process worked, we would’ve been more than happy to work with them four years ago,” Brady said, adding that then, “it would not be necessary to establish this dangerous new precedent.”
Though candidates for the US presidency aren’t required by law to show voters their tax returns, they have done so for decades as a gesture of transparency. Trump was the exception.
Trump has said that, on the advice of his lawyers, he wouldn’t release his tax documents while he’s under audit by the Internal Revenue Service — and he says he has been audited constantly since 2004. There is no law that prevents tax returns under audit from being made public.
Trump has also said there’s “nothing to learn from” his returns, that they are “extremely complex” so people “wouldn’t understand them,” and that Americans who aren’t reporters don’t “care at all” about what’s in them.
The tax code allows the chairmen of the congressional tax committees to request the returns of any taxpayer, including the president. That information can then be made public by a majority vote of the committee. The tax returns have been very closely held because releasing tax information without authorization is a felony punishable by prison time.
Trump’s unwillingness to release the documents has heightened speculation about what information about loans, business ties or his wealth they could contain.
Much of Trump’s financial picture became public two years ago, when weeks ahead of the 2020 election the New York Times published excerpts of Trump’s tax returns that showed he paid minimal taxes, including paying no income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years because of large losses that offset any profits.
The New York Times report said that many of Trump’s businesses are struggling, with him putting more money into the firms than he’s taking out, and that he earned millions abroad during his time in the White House, including from authoritarian-leaning countries such as the Philippines and Turkey. Trump dismissed the reporting as “totally fake news.”
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