WASHINGTON — After years of refusing to release his tax returns and battling House Democrats’ attempts to obtain them, former President Donald Trump may soon be forced to reckon with tough questions about his finances.
Has he paid taxes? Is he as rich as he’s claimed? Does he have any financial conflicts of interest with U.S. or foreign entities?
The Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee said Tuesday that it would release Trump’s tax returns — spanning years 2015 to 2020 — to the public for the first time.
The panel released a summary of the information, and said the actual returns — redacted to conceal personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers — would be released within a week.
Here are five questions about the unprecedented move.
1. Could Trump win a last-minute court order to prevent the release of his tax returns?
It is possible, but highly unlikely.
Trump has lost at every turn when he went to court seeking to protect the privacy of his returns.
Last month, it was a one-line unanimous rebuff from the Supreme Court.
His lawyers had filed an emergency appeal warning that House Democrats would release the former president’s tax returns as soon as they obtained them.
The justices, three of whom are Trump appointees, considered his appeal for several weeks, but dismissed it without comment.
A federal judge appointed by Trump had ruled the law gave the Ways and Means Committee the right to obtain tax returns upon request. A U.S. appeals court agreed in a 3-0 decision.
After that record of defeat, it’s hard to see how any judge would intervene now.
It should be noted, however, that in recent years, federal judges have shown an increasing willingness to jump into partisan fights.
And with Republicans taking over the House in January, even a short injunction from a conservative judge might be enough to delay the release until Democrats turn over control of the House committee to the GOP.
— David G. Savage
2. What do the House summaries of Trump’s returns show so far?
That he may not be such a great businessman after all.
As a 2016 presidential candidate, Trump said his business success gave him the skills to govern the nation.
But the 2015-2020 tax data reported by the House committee tell a very different story.
Year after year, including during his term in the White House, Trump’s main business — rents, royalty payments and other income from hotels, golf courses and other properties — consistently reported millions of dollars of losses.
Over those six years, the losses totaled more than $75 million.
Where Trump had much better luck was in collecting interest income, which amounted to $56.5 million from 2015 to 2020.
Previous reporting by the New York Times showed that through 2017, most of that income came from Trump’s share of profits earned by a partnership that controls two office towers, in Manhattan and San Francisco — and in which Trump has no management authority.
— Don Lee
3. What is the IRS program that was supposed to audit the president?
The IRS mandatory audit program for presidents has its roots in the Nixon era, when questions were raised about the IRS’s ability to review the president’s returns, the report said.
In 1977, three years after Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment, the agency adopted a policy to require an annual audit of both the president and vice president while they were in office. The standing policy would help depoliticize the examination, the report said.
But committee members said that practice was not followed under Trump. They said no audit appears to have taken place during the first two years of his presidency. Only one of Trump’s returns began to receive an audit while he was in office, the report stated.
The IRS on its website offers some insights into how the program functions. The location of the president and vice president’s returns are supposed to be monitored at all times during the examination, the documents are to be kept in an orange folder, in a locked drawer or cabinet when it’s not being looked at, and not viewed by other employees.
Still there are many unanswered questions, including which returns are probed, how many agents are involved in the examination, how long the audits will take and what happens when a president disagrees with the finding of the audit.
— Erin. B. Logan
4. What are the odds that Congress will pass a bill requiring future presidents to release their tax returns?
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Massachusetts, has filed legislation that would require the Internal Revenue Service to conduct a mandatory audit “as rapidly as practicable” after the filing of a presidential income tax return.
The bill would also require the Treasury secretary to make public the president’s returns; initial, periodic and final reports; and any audit materials.
The legislation comes after Democrats on the panel released a report Tuesday that found “the mandatory audit program was dormant, at best, during the prior administration.”
With Congress set to depart this week until the new year following passage of a $1.7-trillion omnibus package, the legislation is unlikely to go anywhere this year.
But Neal projected confidence that the measure has enough bipartisan support to pass a Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate in the next Congress.
“I think that it’s fair to say that there’s going to be broad support for this, I believe, in the House and the Senate,” Neal told reporters. “I think this is going to sail because if there was any takeaway from the conversations we’ve had over the last couple of days with Republicans, they would like to see something like this take place.”
A spokesperson for Ways and Means Committee Republicans didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
— Nolan D. McCaskill
5. What has Trump said?
He’s been unusually quiet so far.
Trump didn’t immediately react to the committee’s report on his taxes, though he has been vocal about past efforts to release them.
After the Supreme Court ruled against him last month, he called the court a “political body” that had “lost its honor, prestige and standing.”
— Arit John
Story by Los Angeles Times staff. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.