Will Washington now possess a new political weapon to be used against the opposition and threaten privacy protections for the average American? This has become a chief concern for Republicans after a Democratic-led House panel approved to make public the much-anticipated Trump tax returns. Democrats say these efforts are about transparency, while the GOP thinks even its opponents will eventually regret utilizing the latest tool in US politics. But with the release of a committee summation, has America learned anything new?
Trump Tax Returns Go Public – Again
The US House Ways and Means Committee voted in a private closed session along party lines on Dec. 20 to submit a report on former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. That report – released late at night rather than leaked to favored news outlets – cover the period from 2015 to 2020. The underlying documents, however, are expected to go through substantial redactions before being made public.
It is unclear what the Democrats intended to find or show, but the summary spotlighted, among other things, how much Trump paid in taxes, how much he donated to charity, and what kind of scrutiny the IRS placed on the 45th president. Much of this information had already been released by the New York Times back in Sept. 2020. It was already public knowledge that the former president did not pay net taxes in certain years as he had overpaid on previous returns, so why would the committee spend such valuable time and resources on continuing the investigation?
Democrats justified the intrusion by saying that they needed access to the Trump tax returns to have a greater comprehension of how the presidential audit program works. A second report released through the committee tackles the “mandatory audit program,” which applies to presidents in office. The report argues that it was only carried out once by the IRS in 2019, and only after the House raised questions.
Weapons of Lawfare?
Democrats contend that there is precedent for the committee to release confidential tax information. However, Republicans have asserted that this could have consequences for politicians and average citizens in the future if they become targets of the committee. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the top Republican on the committee, warned that the measure would turn into “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president and overturns decades of privacy protections for average Americans that have existed since the Watergate reform.”
“We are unified in our concern the Democrats may today move forward with unprecedented action that will jeopardize the right of every American to be protected from political targeting by Congress,” Brady added.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the committee chairman, explained that the decision “was not about being punitive. This was not about being malicious.” In addition, House Democrats claimed that the IRS failed to audit Trump’s tax filings during his first two years in the Oval Office, prompting Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) to aver that her party’s pursuits have been “about making sure there are checks and balances for the presidency.”
Political strategists purport that the timing of this event could lead to intense political fallout, considering that the former president announced his plans to make another White House bid in 2024.
Although Trump himself has yet to publicly respond, a spokesman for the former president took aim at the committee’s decision. “This unprecedented leak by lame-duck Democrats is proof they are playing a political game they are losing,” Steven Cheung warned. “If they are so hell-bent on releasing President Trump’s tax returns… they should release the tax returns of [outgoing House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and her weirdo husband Paul to see how much dirty money they have made from selling out America and jeopardizing our national security.”
A Blow to the 2024 Campaign?
Although column inches are being generated apace with the release of these reports, there seems to be little new information that could politically damage the former president. The 45th president already weathered the storm of his leaked tax documents in 2020 and has not been put off running again in 2024. Further investigations into his donations and expenses will no doubt continue, but minus a smoking gun announcement, it appears that the infamous saga of Trump’s Tax Returns has passed with a fizzle rather than a bang.
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