What Congress Can Do With Trump’s Tax Returns

After three controversial years, the Congressional Ways and Means Committee can finally get its hands on former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. But whether the Committee will release that information to the public remains to be seen.

Trump’s tax returns have been expected to be public information since his appointment in 2016. Now that Congress has access to the records, appropriate committees can determine whether he committed any financial indiscretions and whether the IRS handled it properly. But it also opens the door for the public and media to look at those records, which may tell us about the nature of his finances, whether he exploited tax loopholes or committed financial crimes, and his financial ties to powerful people and other governments while in office. .

Trump has long tried to keep his comebacks under wraps, but a decision of the Supreme Court issued in November means the committee can access them, despite its strenuous efforts to keep them private. Some of Trump’s tax records are already public information, via a 2020 New York Times report. That report showed his manipulation of the tax system and his financial reporting to pay minimal or, in many cases, no taxes.

The documents the commission now has access to include six years of tax returns from the former president, both from his business and from personal records and covering much of his time in the White House, according to Cnn.

Trump has struggled to keep his returns private since committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) requested them in April 2019. The Treasury Department initially denied the request, kicking off a protracted court battle years.

But it’s not necessarily the committee’s goal to broadcast Trump’s finances in broad daylight: They apparently want the information to evaluate the IRS presidential audit process, something all presidents and vice presidents undergo each year while in office.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, he told CNN last week that he was complying with a court order to turn over the documents to the commission. Although the committee met on Thursday to discuss what he would do with the documents, Neal told reporters the same day that he would not comment on whether he saw them or what exactly he intended the committee to do. The appeal was reported on Thursday.

“It’s very sensitive information,” he said at the time. “We intend to approach this professionally.”

What is a presidential audit and why is the Ways and Means Committee looking into it?

It’s unclear exactly why Trump went to such lengths to protect his tax records. But even if your recent tax documents have been made public, they may not satisfy people asking this question, either because it’s not the one the Ways and Means Committee has chosen to answer, or because the documents may not be made public. .

Given how long it takes for the committee to access the records, the committee won’t be able to conduct a thorough evaluation of the records before Republicans assume leadership of both the House and the committee in January.

“The thing that interests me most about Ways and Means sourcing of returns is what it’s going to say about the IRS audit of those returns,” Keith Fogg, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, told Vox. “Have the audits been completed now? How much did he owe if anything? Did he pay it? What special steps has the IRS taken to monitor a candidate/president’s performance?”

Trump declined to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign, saying he was “under control” and would make them public once the process is complete. A 2020 New York Times survey showed that he was in a decade-long battle over a $72.9 million refund he received on his 2010 tax return.

“I suspect the NY Times has given us the most information about his returns, and the new data will only confirm what has already been made public,” Fogg said.

The committee’s request has to do with the process of reviewing Trump’s tax records while he was president, rather than the information they contain.

“The president’s and vice president’s returns are audited each year whether or not they raise red flags that could cause another taxpayer to be audited,” Daniel Hemela New York University School of Law professor told Vox via email. The procedure for verifying such declarations is unique to such registrations, as set forth in Internal Revenue Manual. They should receive a quick and thorough examination under careful security measures. “One of the reasons for the House Ways & Means committee’s investigation is to learn how, in practice, such audits differ from audits of other returns,” Hemel said.

The other question the docs could answer is, as Hemel told Vox, whether the IRS appropriately handled any red flags.

“By examining the returns themselves, a congressional committee could find out if there are any suspicious items that, in a normal audit, would merit follow-up,” he said. “And then the committee could investigate whether the IRS actually followed up on those articles and to what effect.”

Depending on the results of the review, Congress could change the process through legislation.

How could the documents become public?

Despite the public’s legitimate interest in Trump’s tax returns, there is still a veil of secrecy surrounding them. They are sensitive private documents, even if they belong to a public figure and former politician, and must be treated in this way, as the Revenue Manual dictates.

Legally, the IRS must provide returns to the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation at the committee chairman’s written request, but that doesn’t give those bodies carte blanche to make them public.

But what can those three committees do, Hemel pointed out in a piece for Lawfareis submit documents in legislation or a report to the entire House or Senate, or both, at any time by entering such information in the public record.

There are political reasons why the House committee now keeps the documents private. First of all, it would be a bait to make them public; Neal has stated multiple times since he requested the information in 2019 that the committee’s sole intent was to review the presidential audit process, not release it for political gain or to embarrass Trump.

Given that the committee likely won’t (or, at least, probably shouldn’t, as Hemel argues) release the documents to Congress, and won’t finish a thorough review of the presidential audit process before Jan. 3, when Republicans take over the leadership of the committee , there are still ways Congress could carry out the review of audit procedures – and too eventually release: Trump’s tax records.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Trump cannot prevent congressional committees from obtaining his returns and requested materials, the Senate Finance Committee, which will remain under Democratic scrutiny, could step in and request the documents, making its own assessment. of the presidential audit process. That, Hemel said, could motivate Congress to make legislative changes to the process if needed, or “make a referral to the Department of Justice for prosecution if the facts justified. From there, the committee it could release the documents to the full Senateby making such a referral or by designating another legitimate reason for doing so.

Given the scope of the Ways and Means Committee’s reasoning for requesting Trump’s tax returns, the public probably won’t see those documents anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or never will.

Former President Donald J. Trump…

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