Will Democrats use President Trump’s tax returns for the legislative purpose they claimed to be pursuing, or will they make them public for political purposes? Now that Democrats are on track to receive these confidential documents–despite warnings that pursuing them would provide Congress with a dangerous political weapon–it’s unclear whether they will stick to the legal arguments they made in order to acquire them.
What Democrats do next will reveal their true purpose: a politicized public release or upholding the basis on which they were granted access to the returns, which was confidential oversight?
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.”
Bottom line: Democrats risk further weaponizing the tax code if they make these tax returns public, endangering all Americans. As Ways and Means Republican Leader Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) said:
“The Supreme Court has no idea what their inaction unleashes. By effectively granting the majority party in either chamber of Congress nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of political enemies — political figures, private citizens, or even justices of the Supreme Court themselves — they are opening a dangerous new political battleground where no citizen is safe.
“The Court’s approval of Democrats’ flimsy guise of ‘reviewing presidential audit procedures’ turns on its head the current law protecting citizens against Congress using the IRS as a political weapon.
“No party in Congress should hold this dangerous power. I hope lawmakers who value the privacy of tax returns act to close this massive loophole the courts have created.”