Following years of the House Ways and Means Committee attempting to obtain former President Trump's tax returns, six years of his federal returns have been made public. As CNN reports, the committee, led by Democrats, got hold of his 2015-2020 tax returns a few weeks ago, and they've now made the information publicly available.
Why did the committee seek to view Trump's federal tax returns? While citizens' tax returns are kept private, U.S. presidents typically release theirs voluntarily while in office. As the New York Times noted, the full records may offer insights into Trump's complex finances and "how he may have profited from tax policies he signed into law as president."
Why did the committee seek to obtain Trump's federal tax returns?
U.S. presidents usually provide federal tax returns voluntarily, but Trump resisted tradition. He and his legal team fought the House Ways and Means Committee's attempts to get his tax returns opened up. After making the decision, he released a campaign video claiming that the Congressional actions were "completely unconstitutional" and "an outrageous abuse of power."
The committee's report primarily focused on whether the IRS had adequately audited Trump's federal tax returns while he was in office (which is mandatory). The committee found that only one mandatory audit was conducted for 2016, and that didn't happen until 2019 when Chairman Richard Neal officially requested it.
What do the six years of tax returns show about how much tax Trump paid?
The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation analyzed the numbers from each of the six years of federal tax returns obtained. According to the JCT, in 2017, the former president paid only $750 in federal income tax, and in 2020 he paid none. By comparison, in 2018 and 2019, his combined federal income tax paid totaled $1.1 million.
The JCT's report questions whether certain significant charitable contributions were reported accurately — an important issue since charitable donations can reduce one's income tax owed.
The former president appears to have carried forward a large amount of net operating losses in order to drastically reduce his income tax liability. Amounts included:
- $105 million carried forward in 2015
- $73 million in 2016
- $45 million in 2017
- $23 million in 2018
These tax records may show whether Trump benefited from tax policies he signed into law.
During his time in office, President Trump signed various laws impacting taxes. As the Times indicated, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is one such piece of legislation that offered significant tax breaks for the wealthy and businesses.
The Ways and Means Committee's report shows that the IRS could not keep up with the many lawyers, accountants, and tax professionals that Trump hired during his presidency, as well as before and after his term.
The House has recently passed a bill to reform the presidential audit process in preparation for the House being soon controlled by the Republican Party in the new Congressional term.
Trump and other Republicans criticized Democrats for the move to release Trump's tax returns.
Referring to the committee's decision to release his tax returns, Trump himself stated, "There is no legislative purpose for their action." Republican Representative Kevin Brady said, "This is a regrettable stain on the Ways and Means Committee and Congress and will make American politics even more divisive and disheartening. In the long run, Democrats will come to regret it."
Brady also criticized the move as giving Congress "nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of private citizens, political enemies, business and labor leaders, or even the Supreme Court justices themselves." The Times also noted that in a Republican closed-door meeting, leaders suggested releasing tax information of President Biden or his family members, such as Hunter Biden.