Democrats on the House Ways and Means committee voted Tuesday to release former President Donald Trump’s tax returns in a move that opponents say will have “severe consequences.”
The vote was 24-16 on a party-line basis.
The six years of returns — spanning from 2015-2020 — will be released to the public in the coming days after the documents are prepared by staffers to redact information such as Social Security numbers, street addresses, and other identifying data.
The returns will be released as part of a larger committee report on the IRS practice of auditing presidents and marks the end of a long partisan battle that began when then-candidate Trump broke years of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaigns.
“After a long process, this was not about being punitive, this was not about being malicious,” Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) said Tuesday after the vote.
The committee had a range of options on the table from keeping the returns private for now or releasing a summary to releasing all or part of the returns themselves and opting to send the documents to the full House of Representatives, which has the effect of making them public.
The move drew intense condemnation from Republicans on the committee and across Washington.
“Democrats are unleashing a dangerous new political weapon that is going to have severe consequences,” GOP ranking member Kevin Brady (R-TX) said Tuesday.
Republicans will take control of the powerful tax-writing committee in just a few weeks and wouldn’t say if today’s move will lead to reprisals.
“I won’t speculate on what the next Congress and this committee will focus on related to tax returns,” Brady said. “But I do know a big focus will be on the IRS.”
Brady is retiring this year and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is one of the candidates to replace him atop the committee next year. Buchanan has called the move “an extremely slippery slope and would make clear no American is safe from being targeted for their personal or political beliefs.”
Still, there was very little that Republicans could do Tuesday with Democrats in control of the panel and voting in unison.
Six years of returns
With the documents themselves still awaiting preparation, it remains to be seen what new details might be uncovered that aren’t already publicly known. In 2020, the New York Times obtained a trove of Trump’s tax return data going back decades. But they didn’t include returns from certain years that are now in the possession of House Democrats, such as 2018 or 2019 while Trump was in office.
Those leaked returns showed that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 when he won the presidency and another $750 the year after. He also paid no federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years that The Times examined.
Prosecutors in New York have also obtained access to some of Trump’s tax data, but have not released them publicly.
Tuesday’s hearing, while historic, was also a quick affair at least when it came to the cameras. Chairman Neal opened the review of the confidential materials and moved quickly into a private session after agreeing to a motion from Brady that a transcript of the private meeting would be made public.
Then, more than four hours later, the cameras were turned back on, the reporters were let back into the room, and the voting swiftly got underway.
Tuesday’s events provided a bookend of sorts for Neal, who is handing over his gavel at the end of the year. In 2019, Democrats took control of the panel and Neal headed the committee, beginning his effort for the returns and arguing that the committee needed them as part of a larger look at an Internal Revenue Service program of auditing sitting presidents.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Rep. Brady again criticized the action saying, “what was clear today is that public disclosure of President Trump’s private tax returns has nothing to do to do with the stated purpose of reviewing the IRS presidential audit process.”
Republicans have long disputed that the returns were being pursued for a legitimate legislative purpose, charging that the real reason was simply to make them public as a means to embarrass the former president.
Ben Werschkul is a Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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