By Zachary Stieber
A U.S. House of Representatives panel voted Dec. 20 to make six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns public via a report.
The 24-16 vote, by the House Ways and Means Committee, was along party lines. All Democrats voted in favor and all Republicans voted against after a closed door hearing that lasted more than four hours.
Because Democrats control the House, the party has more members on each panel.
Democrats said later that information they’ve reviewed shows the IRS did not audit Trump for the years 2017 to 2019.
“The American people have a right to know about this alarming state of noncompliance with the mandatory presidential audit. But they can’t take our word for it. They need to see the returns themselves and make their own conclusion, and that’s why it was so important for us to take the vote we did,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, said at a press conference after the vote.
Supporting materials will be released along with the report, according to Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee. That will include legislation that would reform the presidential audit program, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told reporters afterwards. Neal said sensitive information such as social security numbers would be redacted.
The panel obtained the returns in November after the U.S. Supreme Court opted against continuing to block the IRS from transmitting the documents. The returns are from tax years 2015 to 2020. Trump was in office from 2017 to 2021.
Trump had urged three levels of courts to intervene, warning that Democrats would release the returns if they were able to acquire them, but the courts ruled that Neal has articulated a legitimate legislative purpose—analyzing possible changes to the IRS presidential audit program—for wanting the documents, even though judges acknowledged Democrats might make the information public. Neal, who didn’t ask for the returns of any other president, said that the information the panel obtained showed the IRS did not audit Trump for the years 2017 to 2019.
Federal law states that tax returns are confidential but exceptions include a written request from the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee.
The law also states that any tax information that “can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”
Neal said on the House floor in 2017 that Democrats were intending to make Trump’s returns public. He was backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Neal in 2021 said: “There have been claims that the true and sole purpose of the Committee’s inquiry here is to expose former President Trump’s tax returns. These claims are wrong.”
Trump declined to make his returns public while campaigning for president and to release them after taking office.
“You can’t learn much from tax returns, but it is illegal to release them if they are not yours!” Trump wrote recently on his social media website, Truth Social.
Unauthorized disclosure of tax information generally opens a person up to a prison term of up to five years. The law, however, only applies to people who do not obtain the information through exceptions, such as the exception for the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the panel, warned before the vote that the House Ways and Means chairman and the Senate Finance Committee, due to the Supreme Court’s not stepping in, “will have nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of private citizens.”
“And not just private citizens,” he told reporters in Washington. “Political enemies, business and labor leaders or even the returns of Supreme Court justices themselves. No party in Congress should have that power. No individuals in Congress should have that power.”
Other Republicans criticized the pending release following the vote.
“Tonight’s partisan decision by Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee to release the private tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump is unprecedented. It shows just how far they will go to weaponize the bureaucracy against the American people,” Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Democrats, though, supported the move.
“Every president has released their tax returns, except for one: Donald Trump. We will soon find out what he is hiding and why he won’t share them with the American people,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Transcript to be Made Public
Neal opened the hearing and almost immediately moved to enter executive session, or a private meeting.
Neal said he was doing so due to “the confidential nature of the subject matter,” referring to the federal law relating to handling tax returns.
Brady then asked for unanimous consent to make the transcript of what was discussed in the closed hearing public, in the interest of transparency.
Neal said Democrats were “in broad agreement” with the request and called for a vote.
No members opposed Brady’s request.
It’s not clear when the transcript will be released.
Members then voted to move the hearing behind closed doors. Democrats voted in support while Republicans voted against.