The massive New York Times investigation published this week reveals how Donald Trump actually got rich: largely through the transfer of wealth from his father Fred Trump’s real estate empire, with the help of shady tax dodges over decades.
But that report, which describes “outright fraud” by Donald Trump and his family in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, isn’t exactly inspiring Republicans in Congress to want a glimpse at the president’s tax returns.
Every presidential candidate before him has revealed theirs, but Trump has repeatedly refused to release his.
VICE News reached out to every member of both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, since their respective Republican leaders could request and receive the president’s tax returns, if they wanted to. Of the 38 Republican members of those committees, 36 didn’t respond at all and two members responded only to say they weren’t going to request Trump’s tax returns.
The Democratic side, as you might expect, is a little different. For Democrats, the Times’ investigation is reinvigorating calls for Trump to release his returns, along with the promise to force that release should Democrats take control of the House or the Senate in the midterms next month.
“It’s past time, and I’m absolutely convinced that if we’re in control, that’s one of the first things that we’ll do in the new Congress,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, in a phone interview with VICE News.
When Trump refused to turn over his tax returns during his 2016 campaign, he broke with a 40-year tradition set by major presidential candidates. He’s since successfully avoided releasing them or detailing his personal wealth, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of any efforts to turn over his returns.
Snippets of Trump’s 1995 and 2005 tax returns have made it to the press and were revealed by the New York Times and MSNBC, respectively. In 1995 he declared a nearly $1 billion loss; in 2005 he reported income of $150 million, a huge turnaround that coincides with the quiet 2004 liquidation of his father Fred Trump’s real estate holdings, the proceeds of which were divided among President Trump and his three living siblings.
Without Trump’s willingness to turn over his filings, Democrats only have only a century-old tax statute to lean on, a 1924 provision in the Internal Revenue Code that allows the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee to request anyone’s tax return for review. Their best hope is taking control of the House in the midterms, offering up the ability to finally see whatever Trump might be hiding.
Democrats have called upon Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to request them. Democrats have also called up Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to do the same.
“As Republicans continue to trip over themselves to hide the president’s wrongdoings, we have no doubt this call for transparency will be ignored,” Rep. Jim Crowley, a New York Democrat and member of Ways and Means, said in a statement.
Should the midterm elections go his party’s way, that would put Rep. Richard Neal in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have outlined a plan for making the filings public after the midterms. Neal told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday he’ll request the tax returns. Brady, the current chairman, did not return repeated requests for comment, but told the Wall Street Journal that the committee’s ability is “to be used not for political fishing expeditions.”
“Using the committee’s authority to release an individual’s tax returns for purely political purposes would be unprecedented and opens the door to allowing Congress to improperly access the tax returns of any American, regardless of whether or not that individual authorized their disclosures,” said Nicole Hager, spokeswoman for the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, has led the call to demand Trump’s tax filings in the House Ways and Means Committee. Republicans have voted 18 times against his measure to obtain the tax returns.
“Donald Trump has spent decades violating our nation’s tax laws to shield his malfeasance,” Pascrell said in a statement after the New York Times published its investigation into Trump’s tax dealings.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a fellow Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and ranking member of the tax policy subcommittee said in a statement that he’ll be requesting the tax returns again, as he’s done through seven motions since February 2017.
Said Doggett: “What Trump fears most is sunlight and accountability. It is coming.”