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House Democrats have former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. But what happens next?

<i>Gaelen Morse/Reuters/File</i><br/>House Democrats have former President Donald Trump's tax returns. Trump here attends a rally to support Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections in November in Dayton
Gaelen Morse/Reuters/File
House Democrats have former President Donald Trump's tax returns. Trump here attends a rally to support Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections in November in Dayton

By Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz, CNN

After a years-long fight, House Democrats finally have access to six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. It is now up to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal to decide what to do with them.

Under tax privacy laws, Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has limited options for what he can do next, but the chairman is also facing mounting political pressure to finish what he started and share information gleaned from the returns with the public before Republicans take control of the House in January.

At this point, aides and members acknowledge the most likely path is for Neal to summon an executive session of his committee and then decide as a committee what to do next, but Ways and Means will also have to weigh the potential fallout of releasing Trump’s tax information.

Now that Trump is officially running for president, any move will be viewed through a political lens and could carry major ramifications of how Congress deals with politicians’ tax information going forward.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump never released his tax returns to the public on the campaign trail, a move that broke with traditions and infuriated Democrats who argued publicly that the decision made it impossible for the American public to understand fully Trump’s financial entanglements.

By releasing the returns, Neal could finally unfurl the mystery to American voters. But the move could also come with political costs. Releasing the returns for the sake of it was never what Democrats argued in court. In their years-long legal battle, Democrats argued they needed the returns in order to understand how an arcane process known as the presidential audit program worked and whether Congress needed to pass legislation that would more clearly outline how the program should be enforced.

Traditionally, every president and vice president has their taxes audited when they come into office. Usually, the returns are nothing surprising because the candidate has released them on the trail, but in the case of Trump, the routine audit carried more importance.

While Neal could always use the information garnered in the returns to write legislation, Democrats are set to lose the House in a matter of weeks with little time to pass major legislation to overhaul the presidential audit program.

What could we learn?

Public reporting on Trump’s tax returns have already unveiled a lot about the former president’s taxes. A massive New York Times report in 2020 revealed that Trump didn’t pay federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years starting in 2000. Tax law allowed the practice because Trump had reported such significant losses on his federal returns.

But Neal’s request also included tax returns for several of Trump’s business entities, which could shed new light on how the former president did business.

Neal requested Trump’s personal income tax returns for the years 2013 to 2018. Neal also asked the IRS for returns for eight of Trump’s business entities, including his Bedminster golf club and any information on the length of audits the IRS conducted on Trump’s taxes. The request in 2019 also asked the IRS to include “administrative files” that existed with Trump’s tax returns. That could include affidavits and work papers surrounding each return and could provide a treasure trove of additional information for the committee.

The New York Times report made clear they did not have Trump’s tax returns in 2018 or 2019. Neal requested Trump’s 2018 return.

What could happen when Republicans take over?

Neal said once Republicans have the majority in the House, it’s up to them what they want to do about the returns.

“I intend to see this through. There is a period of time that we’re still in the majority for the next 33 days. I tend to see it through,” Neal said. “After that, everyone can speak to what they do after that. I expect they won’t check with me either.”

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