Even Democrat Allies Criticize Dems’ “Slapdash and Superficial” Plans to Release President Trump’s Tax Returns
Democrats face a storm of criticism for politicizing the tax code by barreling towards the release of confidential tax information of a political enemy, including from the usually sympathetic Lawfare blog. Daniel J. Hemel, Professor at New York University School of Law, writes:
“Neal and the House Ways and Means Committee would undermine their own credibility—and could be seen as hoodwinking the courts and the public—if they proceeded to release the returns outside the context of a comprehensive review of the presidential audit program.”
There simply hasn’t been enough time to conduct such a review, he continues:
“Any review of the presidential audit program that starts now and ends when the GOP takes control of the House in January would be slapdash and superficial.
Instead, by publicizing confidential information, Democrats will open the door for partisans in Congress to have nearly unlimited power to target political enemies by obtaining and making public their private tax returns to embarrass and destroy them.
Ways and Means Democrats have claimed their intention in releasing Trump’s tax returns are for legitimate legislative purposes – an impossible goal to meet if they move forward with their current plan.
- “Plainly, the House Ways and Means Committee is not going to be able to carry out a thorough evaluation of the IRS’s presidential audit program in the four and a half weeks between now and the GOP takeover.”
- “Any review of the presidential audit program that starts now and ends when the GOP takes control of the House in January would be slapdash and superficial. If Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee rushed to release [one individual’s] returns in the lame-duck session—without conducting the comprehensive review of the presidential audit program that they promised—it would look like their stated motive for seeking the documents was indeed […] pretextual.”
While Democrats insist it’s not political, their rush to release the returns through a hurried, botched process signifies that their motivations are indeed politicized.
- “…Neal and the House Ways and Means Committee insisted all along that their motive was not exposure for the sake of exposure. That was a strategically wise thing to say for litigation purposes, but the statement circumscribes what they can (or, at least, should) do next.”
- “Still, it’s important that Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee remain true to their word… To turn around now and release [one individual’s] returns—outside the context of a thorough evaluation of the IRS’s presidential audit program—would make the stated rationale look much like a head fake.”
Democrats sought a politicized release of Trump’s tax returns – at first.
- Prior to making the formal request of President Trump’s tax returns in Court, Democrats made clear their real intentions. In their own words:
- During the 115th Congress, then-Ranking Member Neal (D-MA) stated that “Committee Democrats remain steadfast in [their] pursuit to have [President Trump’s] individual tax returns disclosed to the public.”
- In 2020, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated: “When we win this election, and we have a new president of the United States in January, and we have a new secretary of the Treasury, and Richie Neal asks for the president’s returns, then the world will see what the president has been hiding all of this time.”
- In 2019, Chairman Neal stated that “the public has reasonably come to expect that presidential candidates and aspirants release those documents.”
- In 2018, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said, “Probably the approach would be to get all of it, review it, and…release all or part of it.”
Democrats then changed their tune to convince the courts that their request was lawful.
- Recognizing that merely publicizing the returns fell short of the legal requirements for obtaining records from the IRS, Ways and Means Democrats, led by Chairman Richard Neal, modified their position. They newly claimed that their pursuit of President Trump’s tax returns was for a legitimate legislative purpose and that they would maintain confidentiality of the documents in conducting that oversight. In their own words:
- In June 2021, having failed on the first attempt to secure the returns, Chairman Neal abandoned the clearly political premise to expose the returns: “There have been claims that the true and sole purpose of the Committee’s inquiry here is to expose former President Trump’s tax returns. These claims are wrong.”
- Democrats pledged to limit access: In the initial request for the documents in 2019, Democrats wrote: “Absent explicit Committee authorization, access to this document and any responsive documents shall be limited to IRS personnel who need such access for the purpose of providing information or assistance to the Committee.”
- Democrats pledged confidential review: Democrats also told the New York Times that the tax returns would be reviewed confidentially: “Mr. Neal gave the agency until April 10 to comply with the request, and if he receives the information, he will then confidentially review it with his committee staff.”
- Democrats pledged an emphasis on policy, not politics: In a letter to the IRS Democrats wrote: “I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect. This request is about policy, not politics.”