Several years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns have finally been made public after years of legal battles and congressional inquiries, suggesting it will become more difficult for him to protect his business dealings from scrutiny after he evades mandatory audits to years.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines on Tuesday to release Trump’s tax returns for 2015 through 2020. It will likely be a few days before the full records are released, since lawmakers need to redact personal information like Social Security numbers from documents. But reports released on Tuesday by the Ways and Means Committee and the Mixed Commission on Taxation provide a look at the most troubling parts of Trump’s tax returns and the failure of the IRS to consider it.
The IRS has had an agency policy of auditing individual tax returns for presidents and vice presidents every year that dates back to the Nixon era. But under Trump, who was the first president to refuse to publicly release his tax returns on the assuming it was under controlalthough there was nothing legally preventing him from doing so: the program went black.
“We had anticipated that the IRS would expand the mandatory audit program to account for the complex nature of the former president’s financial situation, but we have found no evidence for that,” Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal said in a statement. D-MA) during a hearing on Tuesday. “This is a major IRS failure under the previous administration, and certainly not one we hoped to find.”
According to the committee’s report, it wasn’t until 2019, two years into Trump’s presidency, that the IRS began an audit of his tax returns. The agency did so the same day the committee asked for copies of Trump’s tax returns and related audits, and it didn’t begin auditing tax returns filed during his presidency until after he left the ‘assignment. None of the audits have been completed yet.
The IRS is severely under-resourced and House Democrats are suggested which lacks the ability to handle complex tax cases. However, some government observers have also expressed concern that the Trump administration has improperly influenced the agency.
“It suggests that this was another example of the federal government politicizing Donald Trump’s administration and being misused to its advantage,” said Noah Bookbinder, president and CEO of the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ( crew). “This is something I would say Congress would like to investigate.”
The IRS failed to check and Democrats want to make sure it doesn’t happen again
The reports provide some explanation as to why the IRS failed to check in time. They note that Trump has taken actions to prolong the audits, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests that have blocked IRS resources and failed to provide all the information needed to resolve certain issues.
At the time, the agency was run by Trump appointee Charles Rettig, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars for renting Trump properties while he was in office, according to a investigation by CREW. This has raised questions about the agency’s impartiality.
There was also some concern from Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee, among others, that the IRS was ill-equipped to handle what was thought to be a huge and complex case.
It is true that the agency was plagued by staff shortages, and, according to the report, Trump was represented by a prominent legal team experienced in tax law, including the former IRS chief counsel and a partner in a multinational law firm. But the committee didn’t find the kind of “large volume of tax returns and massive returns-related audit files” they expected: just three bankers’ boxes and a few electronic files, including many one-page documents and duplicates, according to the relationship. This suggests that the audits were not an insurmountable task that would have justified the kind of huge delays that have occurred.
“It’s hard for me to believe that it was an asset or a priority issue, because it’s not that they haven’t finished the investigation, it’s that they haven’t even started,” Bookbinder said. “It’s hard to believe it was anything other than a decision to avoid doing the kind of president’s review that is required.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Tuesday that the commission’s investigation “revealed the urgent need for legislation to ensure the public can trust real accountability and transparency when auditing a sitting president’s tax returns — not just in President Trump’s case.” but for any president”.
He added that House Democrats “will move quickly” to advance legislation requiring the IRS to conduct an annual audit of the president’s finances. However, that legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats would need 10 Republicans to sign on before Congress adjourns for the year.
It’s not likely that Republicans, who control the House in January, will be inclined to investigate the IRS’s failure to comply with their policy. But exactly what happened to the IRS could be the subject of further investigation by the Democrat-controlled Senate Finance Committee or by entities within the executive branch, such as the inspectors general.
What Trump’s tax returns show us so far
Reports released Tuesday provide new insights into Trump’s finances during his presidency. He paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes between 2016 and 2019, but none in 2020 after his businesses suffered large losses during the pandemic. He also earned a total of $38.1 million in interest during his time in the White House, the source of which is not yet known.
The New York Times obtained previously two decades of Trump’s tax returns, ending in 2017, showing a long history of claiming large losses to offset his federal tax liability. As a result, in 10 of the 15 years before he became president, he didn’t pay a single dollar in taxes, according to the Times analysis.
Reports also show that he has canceled significant charitable contributions. He mostly donated land, which he said was for conservation purposes so he could qualify for a deduction, but it’s unclear whether those donations actually qualified for a deduction.
There’s so much more that the entire redacted returns can tell us once they’re released about Trump’s business, fortune, tax strategies, and philanthropic efforts. Bookbinder, for example, will look for any information it can glean about potential conflicts of interest between Trump’s activities and his responsibilities as president. This includes information about whether his income came from foreign governments or companies that might have an interest in his political decisions.
“It’s going to be really important in trying to understand the extent to which Donald Trump’s policy decisions and his decisions about what he’s done as president may have been influenced by his financial interests,” Bookbinder said.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home November 15 in Palm Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images