After the Supreme Court last month cleared the way for Democrats on a key House committee to access six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, lawmakers still have to decide what to do.
That contentious decision is widely expected to be made on Tuesday afternoon when the House Ways and Means committee gathers for a review of confidential materials.
The panel, led by Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), has a range of options on the table from keeping the returns private for now or releasing a summary to the most controversial idea of releasing all or part of the returns themselves.
Neal’s Republican colleague on the committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), is already warning Democrats against a release.
“Democrats are unleashing a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond President Trump, and jeopardizes the privacy of every American,” he said in a statement. “Going forward, partisans in Congress have nearly unlimited power to target political enemies by obtaining and making public their private tax returns to embarrass and destroy them.”
Still, there is very little that Republicans are able to do to stop the proceedings now with Democrats in control of the panel until the end of the year.
The culmination of a long legal battle
Trump broke years of tradition when he refused to release his tax returns during his 2016 presidential campaign. The move immediately set off legal wrangling that has stretched for years.
The most high-profile probe began in 2019 when Democrats took over the House of Representatives and Chairman Neal launched his effort for the returns.
In a statement to multiple outlets in announcing the meeting, Neal said that “nearly four years ago, the Ways and Means Committee set out to fulfill our legislative and oversight responsibilities,” and that they pursued Trump’s returns as part of a larger look at an Internal Revenue Service program of auditing sitting presidents. He added that “as affirmed by the Supreme Court, the law was on our side, and on Tuesday, I will update the members of the committee.”
Republicans have long disputed whether the returns were indeed being pursued for a legitimate legislative purpose, charging that the real reason all along was simply to make them public as a means to embarrass the former president.
On Tuesday, the majority of conversation will not be conducted in public view with Rep. Neal likely to quickly move the meeting to a private setting in order to discuss private information.
At the end, Democrats could vote to report all or some of documents to the full House of Representatives, which would have the effect of making them public.
What could be in the documents
It also 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 it 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 only another $750 the year after. Prosecutors in New York have also obtained access to some of Trump’s tax data, but have not released them publicly.
It’s also unclear how thoroughly Democrats will be able to review the documents, which they have only had for about 20 days, before the vote to release them publicly. Like many billionaires, Trump has incredibly complex finances and in 2015, infamously tweeted a picture of himself next to a tall stack of papers that he said was his return for the previous year.
Trump has long opposed all attempts to obtain his financial information and claimed on Truth Social on Sunday night that “you can’t learn much from tax returns, but it is illegal to release them if they are not yours!”
In spite of his objections, there is historical and legal precedent for the committee to do just that and Neal has released multiple documents to try to demonstrate the legality of his ongoing efforts.
For her part, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that she wasn’t involved in the decision around Trump’s returns but said, “we need to possibly have legislation requiring candidates for president that reach a certain threshold” to release their tax information because “the public has a right to see their tax returns.”