The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday was embroiled in a heated, lengthy debate over Democrats’ plans to make public former President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The committee, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service, remained behind closed doors as discussions stretched on passed four hours in one of the final partisan battles of the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress.
Democrats are poised to greenlight the release of Mr. Trump’s tax returns. Republicans warned them of setting a precedent for politically-motivated use of the authority over the IRS and Americans’ tax returns.
“If they make private information public today, it will be a regrettable stain on this committee and on Congress that will make American politics even more divisive,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and ranking member of the committee.
Democrats have long sought Mr. Trump’s financial records, citing public accountability for their requests to obtain them.
The committee’s wrangling over the tax returns came a day after the House Jan. 6 committee sent the Justice Department criminal referrals accusing Mr. Trump of inciting or assisting an insurrection against the U.S. government, obstructing an official proceeding of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the government.
The Justice Department, which was already investigating Mr. Trump, is not compelled to follow Congress’ recommendation for criminal charges.
The Ways and Means Committee has had access to Mr. Trump’s taxes for weeks since the Supreme Court rejected the former president’s bid to prevent Congress from obtaining the records. The ruling arrived without a dissenting opinion and put an end to a three-year court battle over Congress’ access to Mr. Trump’s tax records.
Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the committee, first wrote to the IRS in the spring of 2019 asking to inspect parts of Mr. Trump’s various business dealings.
The chairman called it a duty for his committee to ensure all Americans are abiding by the nation’s voluntary federal tax system, which includes extending that oversight to the White House.
Mr. Neal’s request was granted because of a 1924 law that gives the head of the Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee the power to request and receive the tax returns of any American.
“Nearly four years ago, the Ways and Means Committee set out to fulfill our legislative and oversight responsibilities, and evaluate the Internal Revenue Service’s mandatory audit program,” Mr. Neal told The New York Times in a statement. “As affirmed by the Supreme Court, the law was on our side, and on Tuesday, I will update the members of the committee.”
Mr. Trump broke with tradition when he refused to voluntarily release his tax returns as a presidential candidate. The former president justified it by saying he was being audited at the time.
The intrigue surrounding Mr. Trump’s tax returns intensified after a 2020 New York Times report that found he only paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and no income taxes at all in 10 of the last 15 years because of personal financial losses.
At the time of the report, Mr. Trump accused the paper of illegally obtaining the records, calling it a “politically motivated hit piece full of inaccurate smears.”