WASHINGTON — House Republicans are furious that Democrats have obtained and might release copies of former president Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), standing with more than a dozen of his colleagues at a press conference Tuesday, said that if Democrats publicize Trump’s taxes, they will “jeopardize the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress.”
But Brady, the top Republican on the House committee that obtained Trump’s tax information, declined to say that those in his party would not also take advantage of tax disclosure laws to obtain and release private tax information.
“We’re not going to speculate on what our actions will be,” Brady said in response to a reporter’s question. “What we know for certain is the Democrats [are] unleashing a dangerous new weapon that’s going to have severe consequences.”
In fact, Democrats aren’t exactly doing that. Since 1924, certain congressional committees have had the same power as the president to ask the Treasury Department for anybody’s tax returns. Both Republicans and Democrats have used that authority in recent years.
Republicans in 2014 wielded the same disclosure powers that Democrats are using now as part of an investigation into the IRS allegedly mistreating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The Republicans wound up publishing private tax information related to some of the organizations as an attachment to a letter urging the Justice Department to prosecute an IRS official.
In 2019, Democrats asked for six years of Trump’s tax returns under Section 6103 of the tax code. Trump had been the first presidential nominee in decades to refuse to voluntarily release his returns for the sake of transparency with voters about his income.
The Trump administration refused to comply with the demand, prompting Democrats to sue in federal court. The case was only resolved last month when the Supreme Court declined to get involved, paving the way for the returns to be handed over.
On Tuesday, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) — who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee — called for a special closed committee meeting where lawmakers could privately discuss the material they obtained, as well as hold a vote on making the information public. The hearing was still ongoing at press time.
Before the meeting, Brady, who is retiring from Congress and won’t chair Ways and Means when Republicans take control of the House next month, declined to say if he thought tax disclosure laws should change. He praised the reforms made in 1976, which prohibited the president from disclosing private tax information but preserved Congress’ ability to do so. The law imposes fines and prison time on any unauthorized tax disclosures.
“This committee will have that conversation later,” Brady told Huffpost.
Republicans may have a conversation about tax disclosure soon. At their first press conference following their victory in the November midterm election, Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced they would undertake a multifaceted investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son.
The FBI has reportedly been investigating the younger Biden for a number of crimes, including tax fraud, and Republicans have repeatedly suggested he’s gotten special treatment from the Justice Department. The House Ways and Means Committee under Brady’s successor could ask for Biden’s tax returns to find out more.