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House committee votes to release Trump’s tax returns

The Democratic-led committee has yet to state when and how the documents will be released.

(CN) — After an hours-long, closed-door meeting, the House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to release to the public former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which he has fought to shield for more than three years.

As House Democrats release the information over the coming days, some of the more sensitive material including addresses will be redacted.

Kevin Brady, a Republican representative from Texas who sits on the committee, told the New York Times that the materials being released include “Trump’s tax returns for the last six years, including the returns from eight affiliated businesses” as well as “audit notes and trails on the audit."

“Not all the audits are complete, which could lead to mischaracterizations," Brady added.

Brady told reporters before the private meeting convened that he believed releasing the documents publicly would give politicians the “power to embarrass, harass, or destroy Americans through disclosure of their tax returns."

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the congressional committee to receive copies of six years of Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department, despite Trump's argument that the request was politically motivated.

Trump lost his case in the lower courts as well, most recently with a panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling unanimously that a committee’s request to examine a taxpayer’s return, including the president’s, is constitutional.

The 42-member, Democratic-led committee only has two weeks left in this congressional session left and Republicans will formally take control of the House on Jan. 3.

Trump has already announced his 2024 bid for presidency, but the committee's findings could discredit his Republican political branding as a successful, patriotic businessman.

The Treasury Department had refused to provide the records during Trump’s presidency, but Representative Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, sought to obtain them after Democrats retook the majority in the House in 2019.

House Democrats argued that Congress needed the tax returns — spanning from 2015 to 2020 — to evaluate whether there is a need for greater legislative oversight of financial activities conducted by presidents, particularly pertaining to the ability of the IRS to effectively audit presidential returns.

“This is about the presidency, not the president,” Neal told reporters.

Trump is the only president in recent history to have refused to make his tax returns public during his campaign, breaking over four decades of a presidential candidate tradition in which they voluntarily do so.

When his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton confronted him about not paying income taxes during a 2016 presidential debate, Trump retorted “that makes me smart” and argued that if he did, the money would be “squandered.”

The former president has claimed for years that he was unable to release the documents while under a "routine audit" by the IRS, which was investigating his claimed 2010 income tax refund of $72.9 million. However, there are no restrictions preventing a taxpayer from releasing their returns while under audit.

After the committee members voted 24-16 to release the tax returns publicly, they said the IRS did not conduct a mandatory audit of Trump’s returns during his first two years in office and never completed any audits while he served. The first audit began the same day that Neal sent a request for the information in April 2019.

The committee published a report in which Neal proposes new legislation that would expand presidential tax filing transparency by ensuring that the IRS conducts annual audits of presidents and publicly discloses certain information.

According to a separate report released by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Trump’s tax forms indicate he used deductions to avoid paying taxes in some years, which should have been noted by the IRS.

Earlier this month, a New York state jury found Trump’s real estate company from which he accumulated much of his business growth guilty on 17 counts of tax fraud after six weeks of trial. 

Prosecutors said the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, subsidaries of the Trump Organization, criminally avoided taxes and suppressed payroll costs in the company’s interest by compensating executives with undocumented and untaxed benefits, such as leases on luxury cars and apartments.

Trump called the verdict a “political witch hunt” and vowed to appeal but faces a $1.6 million maximum penalty if it is imposed during sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 13.

A New York Times article published in 2020 revealed that Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018, while the average tax filer paid roughly $12,200, about 16 times more than the reputed multi-billionaire.

"The idea that somebody is making millions of dollars and can get away without paying their taxes by avoiding — in an unprecedented way — their tax liability, while single moms who are trying to take care of their kids are being audited, is absolutely unacceptable," said Representative Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California who also serves on the committee.

The Times’ investigation of tax return data from over the last two decades found that many crucial properties of his business empire including his Doral golf resort in Miami and D.C. hotel reported losing more money than they made. He also faces more than $400 million in looming loans and other debts.

 “The Fake News Media, just like Election time 2016, is bringing up my Taxes & all sorts of other nonsense with illegally obtained information & only bad intent. I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits,” Trump wrote in a tweet responding to the report. 

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