The House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to make six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns public — potentially ending years of speculation about what they might reveal about his business dealings and personal wealth.
The panel voted along party lines to make the returns available, and information could be available as soon as Wednesday — the day the House Jan. 6 committee is set to issue its final report on the riot at the U.S. Capitol — which will be the final days of Democratic control of Congress before Republicans take over the House in January.
Later Tuesday, the committee released a 29-page report summarizing its investigation into an IRS policy that mandates audits of returns filed by presidents and vice presidents. The committee found that the IRS had largely not followed its own internal requirement, beginning to examine Trump's returns only after the panel inquired about the process. Just one year of Trump's returns while in office was selected for the mandatory review, and the audit was not complete by the time he left the White House, according to the report.
"During the prior Administration, it was clear that the mandatory audit program was not a priority and was not provided with the resources needed to ensure compliance by the former President," the report states. "An internal IRS memo stated: 'With over 400 flow-thru returns reported on the Form 1040, it is not possible to obtain the resources available to examine all potential issues.'"
A separate 39-page report from the Joint Committee on Taxation released Tuesday night included summaries from Trump's personal tax forms and business entities.
For example, in 2019, the last year the committee obtained records, Trump appeared to owe nothing in taxes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation report. That was thanks to Trump’s claiming $15 million in business losses, which resulted in him having negative $4 million in adjusted gross income. Trump then claimed a $5 million refund, the report says.
Trump reported millions in negative income in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020, and he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. He paid no taxes in 2020, according to the report.
In 2019, Trump and his wife, Melania, reported significant losses of more than $16.4 million. That year, he reported a total income of $4.4 million, but his income in the next year, 2020, was negative $4.7 million. It is unclear what the significant drop in income is attributed to.
The committee report listed several overarching issues it believed the IRS should have investigated but did not. For example, Trump claimed large cash donations to charities, but the report said the IRS did not verify them. In addition, Trump's tax filings were large and complicated, but the IRS did not assign experts to work on the audit at the request of the then-president's lawyer, who argued that adding agents could compromise the confidentiality of the documents.
Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., said the more detailed returns will most likely be made public later this week.
"The actual returns themselves will also be transmitted to the full House and become public, but I was told it will take a few days to a week in order to redact some info that needs to be redacted,” Boyle said.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Trump's returns were subject to scant oversight by the IRS, even though all presidents are supposed to be subject to automatic audits.
“For all practical purposes, the research that was done as it relates to the mandatory audit program was nonexistent. The tax forms were really never audited, and only my sending a letter at one point,prompted sort of a rearview response,” Neal said at a news conference after the vote.
Neal has proposed legislation to codify the mandatory audit policy into law, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised in a statement Tuesday.
"The Ways & Means Committee’s report makes clear the legislative steps that must now be taken to guard the public trust, and we will move swiftly to advance Chairman Richard Neal’s legislation requiring the Internal Revenue Service to conduct an annual audit of the president’s finances,” Pelosi said.
The Ways and Means Committee had spent hours in a closed-door session before it voted.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the ranking member, criticized the Democrats’ move and said committee members did not know “exactly what we are releasing” when they voted.
The move to release Trump's tax records could spark threats of some sort of retaliation from Republicans, who have already vowed to launch probing investigations into President Joe Biden and his family. Some Republicans have accused Neal of seeking the returns solely for political reasons.
Neal defended the vote immediately afterward.
"This was not about being punitive, it was not about malicious, and there were no leaks from the committee," he said. "We adhered carefully to the law."
Brady told reporters before the meeting that Democrats were pushing an "unprecedented action that will jeopardize the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress."
"No party in Congress should hold that power. It is the power to embarrass, harass or destroy a private citizen through disclosure of their tax returns," he said.
Trump was the first president to refuse to make his tax returns public since the 1970s.
Neal had maintained he needed to review the returns for "policy, not politics."
"The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately. In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities," Neal said in a statement in April 2019.
But Trump's battle to keep the returns out of the committee's hands dragged on for so long that the panel now has little time to act. The returns were turned over at the end of last month, after the Supreme Court refused Trump's request to take action.
Trump bashed the high court on social media after the ruling. “The Supreme Court has lost its honor, prestige, and standing, & has become nothing more than a political body, with our Country paying the price,” he wrote on his platform Truth Social.
While tax returns are confidential under federal law, there are some exceptions — including when the chair of the Ways and Means Committee requests them.
Neal did so in 2019 after Democrats took control of the House, but Trump's Treasury Department refused to comply, leading the committee to sue to get the returns.
Trump's taxes have been an endless source of speculation ever since he refused to release them during the 2016 election, saying that they were under audit and that he would release them when the audit was finished.
When Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton accused him at a debate of hiding his returns because they would show he paid no federal taxes, Trump replied, “That makes me smart.”
He said after he became president that he might release them after he was out of office. “Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished, because I’m very proud of them, actually. I did a good job,” he said.
Despite Trump's best efforts to keep his finances under wraps, The New York Times reported on some of his returns throughout his presidency and, in 2020, reported that it had obtained two decades of his tax information.
The information showed he had not paid any income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years, mostly because he reported significant losses. In both the year he won the presidency and his first year in office, he paid only $750 in federal income tax, the newspaper found.
NBC News had not seen or verified any of the documents reported by The Times.
Asked about the report at the time, Trump said that the story was “made up” and that he has “paid a lot of money in state” taxes, but he would not say how much. He later tweeted that he had “paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits.”
Ways and Means is not the first committee to ever get ahold of a president’s tax returns.
The head of the Joint Committee on Taxation requested several years of then-President Richard Nixon’s tax returns in 1973 and 1974, as well as returns for first lady Pat Nixon and their daughter and son-in-law.
The committee’s eventual report on Nixon’s taxes included a copy of returns that Nixon had already made public, but not the earlier returns. The report did refer to some of the information it had collected from those earlier returns.