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According to a News Nation timeline, the years-long saga began during the 2016 presidential campaign when Trump became the first presidential candidate in decades to refuse to release his tax return.
Trump took the line at the time that his returns were under audit and he, therefore, could not legally release them, although he also said at other times that he was “working on” getting the returns out.
Following Trump’s election, Democrats and the media continued to request the returns.
Once Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives, the House Ways and Means Committee formally requested the returns in 2019. But then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to turn them over, leading to subpoenas and later a lawsuit.
In the meantime, parts of Trump’s tax returns were leaked to the media multiple times.
In 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained a snippet of the president’s taxes from 2005.
In September 2020, The New York Times got a hold of, and published, more than two decades of the then-president’s tax returns.
In July of 2021, after Trump left office, the Justice Department ordered Trump’s taxes released. and in November of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Trump’s attempt to block the handover of the returns.
The House Committee received the returns last month, nearly two years after Trump left office and with just over a month left to go in the current Congress.
So what’s in the returns?
A report was issued by the committee, while the tax returns themselves will be publicly released in the coming days.
According to CNBC, the returns include Trump’s personal taxes, as well as “ eight related business entities” from the years 2015-2020, encompassing his candidacy and presidency, so these taxes are different from those that the former president had refused to release at the beginning of the process.
“The report reveals that Trump on his federal tax returns declared negative income in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2020 and that he paid a total of $1,500 in income taxes for the years 2016 and 2017,” CNBC said.
The House committee also reported that only one of Trump’s federal returns was being audited by the IRS during his presidency and that audit for 2016 was not completed before the end of Trump’s turn in office.
“The Committee expected that these mandatory audits were being conducted promptly and in accordance with IRS policies. However, our review found that under the prior Administration the program was dormant,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said in his opening statement during yesterday’s meeting of the committee. “We know now, the first mandatory audit was opened two years into his presidency. On the same day, this Committee requested his returns.”
The report itself is called “Report on the Internal Revenue Service’s Mandatory Audit Program Under the Prior Administration (2017-2020.)
“Auditing the income taxes of the President of the United States is unlike auditing the income taxes of any other American. No one else has the power to sign bills into law—bills which could affect the President’s personal financial situation,” the Ways and Means report said. “Nor do they have the power to personally direct every department, agency, bureau, and office of the vast executive branch of government— opening limitless opportunities to affect the President’s personal finances. And no other American has the comparable power to appoint or terminate.”
The Republican minority on the Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), objected to the release.
“Over our objections in opposition, Democrats in the Ways and Means Committee have unleashed a dangerous new political weapon that overturns decades of privacy protections,” Brady told the press, per the AP. “The era of political targeting, and of Congress’s enemies list, is back and every American, every American taxpayer, who may get on the wrong side of the majority in Congress is now at risk.”
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.