House committee holds meeting on Trump's tax returns

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Tori B. Powell and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 7:12 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022
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8:11 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee votes to release materials on Trump's taxes to the public

From CNN's Lauren Fox, Daniella Diaz and Jeremy Herb

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Democratic-led House Ways and Means committee has approved a motion to release the materials surrounding Donald Trump's tax returns to the "House of Representatives."

It is unclear when the public will see these materials. The vote was approved with all 24 Democrats voting in favor of the motion and all 16 Republicans voting no.

The committee said it will redact personal information from the documents.

The highly anticipated meeting — which began publicly but quickly entered into a closed, private session — was years in the making but comes as Democrats have just days to act on whether to release the former president's tax returns.

While there is historic precedent for Ways and Means to release confidential tax information, a decision to put it out to the public would come with intense political fallout as Trump has already declared he is running for president in 2024. 

The committee has had access to Trump's taxes for weeks after winning a lengthy legal battle that began in the spring of 2019. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal requested the first six years of Trump's taxes as well as tax returns for eight of his businesses back in April of 2019. 

Neal and his ranking member Kevin Brady have had access to the information, and rank-and-file members on the committee will have begun to have access and review at least some of Trump's tax information, according to a source familiar. 

It's not clear if members would have access to all of the information.

8:02 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

The committee's release will include tax returns from 2015 to 2020

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, who is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the committee on taxation will release a report with supplemental analysis on Donald Trump's tax returns.

The committee will also release all information included in committee chair Richard Neal's request, which will include tax returns from 2015 to 2020.

The committee will also release legislation to enshrine in law the presidential audit program.

5:08 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

A look at Trump's long effort to shield financial information from the public  

From CNN's Kristen Holmes 

There have been questions around former President Donald Trump‘s wealth and taxes for decades.Trump has long claimed that he is enormously wealthy businessman, building a personality and brand on that narrative.

He spent years protecting that image — keeping his business dealings, net worth and how much of his money went to the government away from the public.

That long endeavor may come to an end Tuesday, when the House Ways and Means Committee decides whether to make years of Trump’s tax returns public.

Some advisers are concerned about the potential release and what may lie in the never-before-seen documents, particularly as his recently launched third presidential run has faltered out of the gate.

Others believe Trump will be able to spin any lack of payment as him “gaming the system.” Regardless, Trump is facing one of his greatest fears— public scrutiny of his finances.  

Trump’s tax returns have always been front and center in his political career. As early as 2011, when Trump toyed with a future presidential run, Trump said he might release his taxes, if then President Obama released his birth certificate. 

Two sources close to Trump said they believed he wouldn’t actually run for office, given the financial scrutiny.

When running for president in 2016, Trump claimed he would release his taxes, but was under “a routine” audit and could only do so after it was completed. He became in the first president modem history to refuse to do so.  

Two years later, amid calls to make his tax returns public, Trump said his tax return was “big” and “complex” and “people would not understand it.” 

In 2019, Trump was compelled to turn over some of his tax returns to New York investigators. Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. investigated Trump and his business dealings for years. 

In 2020, the The New York Times obtained two decades worth of Trump’s tax returns and found that Trump paid just $750 dollars in federal taxes in both 2016 and 2017 and that he had paid no income tax in at least 10 years. The Times also concluded that Trump was facing “hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming in the future. The report enraged Trump who claimed it was “fake news.” 

The only details about Trump's taxes to become public came out during testimony last month in the criminal tax fraud trial of his real estate company when a prosecutor handed portions of Trump's taxes to a witness.

Trump's long-time accountant testified Trump reported losses on his personal tax returns every year from 2011 to 2018.

Over two years his losses totaled nearly $1 billion. The former president’s 2010 personal tax return reported losses of almost $200 million and in 2009 those losses totaled roughly $700 million, the accountant testified.

The House Ways and Means committee first sought Trump’s returns in 2019 as part of an assessment of the IRS program that audits presidents. Trump sued to stop the release and eventually the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his request to block the committee from obtained his records. 

Rumors have swirled since Trump was a young real estate mogul that he was not a rich as he has projected himself to be. Earlier this year, New York attorney general, Letitia James, filed a civil lawsuit against Trump, his children and Trump Org alleging that their investigation had “uncovered the fact that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in significant fraud to inflate his personal net worth by billions of dollars to illegally enrich himself and cheat the system.” The Trump Org was convicted of a tax fraud scheme earlier this month. 

Trump is the most politically vulnerable he has been in years. Today’s decision coupled with tomorrow’s release of transcripts, which are likely to be negative, could drive him further down the hole as he prepares to start his 2024 political campaign in earnest the first week of January. 

CNN's Kara Scannell contributed reporting to this post.

4:33 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

Analysis: Why the potential release of Trump's tax returns is a "big moment"

The potential release to the public of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns is what Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio says is of “vital importance” when compared to other investigations the politician is currently facing.

D’Antonio told CNN’s Victor Blackwell Tuesday it would be “shocking” if the contents of Trump’s tax returns were fully released, and that he expects the former president to interpret the potential move as an “attack on his identity.”

“I don’t know if he’s prepared for that,” D’Antonio said. “A regular person would be prepared for that, but he kind of wings everything so he may act very wounded. I think he will be very wounded."

Chief political analyst Gloria Borger called the potential release significant, adding that she thinks the components of his returns "are complex."

"Essentially he knows how to game the system and he was applauded by supporters for that," she said. "So this is a big moment for Donald Trump and his own sort of self-identity, who he is, what he's about, which is how rich he is."

The legal justification the committee would offer in order to release Trump’s returns is hard to foresee, considering that it only has the returns as a result of a prolonged fight, according to senior legal analyst Elie Honig. The committee has pointed to a federal law that requires an individual’s returns received by the House and Ways committee to remain confidential.

"The precedent here is going to be really problematic," Honig said.

In defending the former president, Republicans have mentioned the protection of taxpayers across the country and information privacy, according to CNN's Lauren Fox.

3:44 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

What the public could learn from Trump's tax returns

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz

Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at Mar-a-Lago on November 8.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at Mar-a-Lago on November 8. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

While The New York Times obtained decades of former President Donald Trump’s personal tax information back in 2020, House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal's request could shed light on additional years of Trump’s finances and paint a picture of how the former president used his business entities and personal wealth in the years before and after becoming president.

Trump broke with tradition in 2016 by refusing to release any of his personal tax returns.

Democrats have long argued that Trump’s taxes could provide necessary information about whether the president had any entanglements that could impact his decision making as president. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee argued in court they needed Trump’s tax returns so they could understand better the presidential audit program, which is supposed to routinely audit the returns of every incoming president and vice president when they are elected.

Neal didn’t just request Trump’s raw tax return, however. Neal also requested administrative files and paperwork, items that could include IRS officials’ notes or audits of Trump’s returns. The information could paint a picture of what kind of scrutiny the IRS has pursued on Trump in the past and whether any of that scrutiny changed when he became president.

If the committee did vote to make the information public, it could shed light on how wealthy Trump really is, how much he gave to charity and how much he paid in taxes. The New York Times report in 2020 made clear that Trump carried over business losses for years to legally be able to avoid paying taxes for many of those years, but Ways and Means will have access to some additional years of Trump taxes as well.

3:30 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

House Republicans warn of "terrible precedent" if Trump’s tax returns are released

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

Rep. Kevin Brady, ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, speaks alongside fellow Republicans prior to a committee meeting onTuesday,  December 20, in Washington, DC.
Rep. Kevin Brady, ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, speaks alongside fellow Republicans prior to a committee meeting onTuesday, December 20, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee warned on Tuesday that the release of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns would set a “terrible precedent” for the future.

Ranking member Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas told reporters on Capitol Hill that such a move would amount to “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former President and overturns decades of privacy protections for average Americans that have existed since the Water-Gate reform.” 

His comments came before the House Ways and Means Committee meeting on Tuesday to discuss Trump’s tax returns and weigh whether to release the information to the public.

The committee has had access to Trump’s taxes for weeks after winning a lengthy legal battle that began in the spring of 2019.

 “We are unified in our concern the Democrats may today move forward with unprecedented action that will jeopardize the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress,” Brady said.

3:25 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

Ways and Means committee members got access to Trump’s tax information ahead of meeting, sources say

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Ahead of the highly anticipated Ways and Means Committee meeting Tuesday, rank and file members on the committee began to have access and review at least some of former president Donald Trump's tax information, according to a source familiar. 

It's not clear if members would have access to all of the info.The committee is expected to weigh a decision in Tuesday's executive session about whether to release personal tax information about the former president.

The chairman of the committee, Richard Neal, and his ranking member, Kevin Brady, have had access to the information. 

3:10 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

A House committee is meeting now on whether to release Trump's tax returns. Here are key things to know 

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz

(Pool)
(Pool)

The House Ways and Means Committee is meeting now to discuss former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and weigh whether to release the information to the public, the end to a years-long effort from Democrats to learn more about Trump’s financial background.

The highly anticipated meeting is years in the making but comes as Democrats have just days to act on whether to release the former president’s tax returns. While there is historic precedent for Ways and Means to release confidential tax information, a decision to put it out to the public would come with intense political fallout as Trump has already declared he is running for president in 2024.

The committee has had access to Trump’s taxes for weeks after winning a lengthy legal battle that began in the spring of 2019. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal requested the first six years of Trump’s taxes as well as tax returns for eight of his businesses back in April of 2019.

Neal and his ranking member Kevin Brady have had access to the information, and rank-and-file members on the committee will have begun to have access and review at least some of Trump’s tax information, according to a source familiar.

It’s not clear if members would have access to all of the information.

Republicans on the committee are preparing to push back hard if Democrats vote to release any of Trump’s tax information, committee sources tell CNN. The argument Republicans will wage, however, won’t center on defending Trump explicitly but rather what the release means for politicians and ordinary people in the future.

Democrats on the committee would rely on section 6103 of the tax code to lawfully release information about Trump’s taxes, but Republicans are prepared to argue that Democrats are abusing the provision, attacking a political enemy and potentially unleashing a system where even individuals could have their personal information exposed if they become targets of the committee.

What comes next: The committee will meet Tuesday afternoon and is expected to quickly vote to go into a closed-door session. Once that meeting is underway, members and staff in the room will be able to freely discuss the information contained in Trump’s tax returns and begin their debate about what to do next. It is possible that lawmakers could make a decision Tuesday afternoon and then swiftly move to release information. It’s still not clear, however, what they will vote to do, but the vote will take place publicly.

The committee will vote on what steps to take, but Democrats control the committee and therefore will be able to decide what to do with Trump’s tax information without any GOP support.

3:08 p.m. ET, December 20, 2022

The Supreme Court cleared the way for the House committee to have access to Trump's tax returns

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

The US Supreme Court is seen in the early morning hours of November 4.
The US Supreme Court is seen in the early morning hours of November 4. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Democrats have been fighting for years to get access to former President Donald Trump's tax returns and other financial information about his businesses.

At the end of November, the US Supreme Court cleared the way for the Internal Revenue Service to release those returns to a Democratic-led House committee.

Republicans have blasted Democrats’ efforts as a political pursuit, but Democrats on the committee, including House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, have argued they needed to obtain the information to understand how the IRS’s automatic audit of presidents’ taxes was working and whether legislation was needed to protect its integrity. When a new president is elected to office, the IRS is supposed to automatically review the president and vice president’s returns.

Neal’s request for Trump’s tax returns spanned six years from 2013 to 2018 and included requests for not only Trump’s personal returns but also his business entities and all administrative files that accompanied the returns.

The court’s move was a major loss for Trump, who has sought to shield the release of his tax returns for years and is currently under multiple investigations. There were no noted dissents in the ruling.

The timeline: Neal first sought the tax returns from the IRS in 2019, and the agency, under the Trump administration, initially resisted turning them over. The case moved slowly until 2021, when, under the Biden administration, the Justice Department changed its legal posture and concluded the IRS was obligated to comply with the committee’s request.

A Trump-appointed judge ruled in the House’s favor late last year and the US DC Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reverse that ruling, most recently with the full appeals court declining to take up the case. The court held that the request for the documents served a legitimate legislative purpose to look at tax laws as they apply to a sitting president and rejected Trump’s argument that the stated purpose was mere pretext to hide a political calculation.

CNN's Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz contributed additional reporting to this post.