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House Democrats plan to take on Trump by highlighting tax returns

By Sarah May
|
December 23, 2022

With their control of the lower chamber poised to end next month, House Democrats are taking one last swing at former President Donald Trump by voting to make several years of his tax returns public and highlighting the lack of an IRS audit of returns from his first two years in office, as Politico reports.

The Ways and Means panel made its move – along party lines – on Tuesday, as NBC News noted, with the House as a whole taking up a bill based on its findings on Thursday, despite the fact that the odds of passage by the evenly divided Senate remain virtually nonexistent.

Symbolic slap

Given that the gesture from House Democrats is mainly symbolic in nature, it represents the final salvo in their continued campaign to pursue any and all avenues of investigation of the former president and send a message to the American people that there is much to uncover.

The Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday produced information revealing that between the years of 2015 and 2020, Trump paid little – sometimes zero – in federal income taxes, even though his returns showed millions of dollars in earnings.

Another finding of the panel was that no IRS audits of Trump's tax returns were initiated during his first two years in the White House, even though internal agency guidelines required such processes to take place, given his status at the time as a sitting president.

Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) declared, “This is a major failure of the IRS under the prior administration, and certainly not what we had hoped to find. Our work has always been to ensure our tax laws are administered fairly and without preference, because at times, even the power of a president can loom too large.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also responded to the House committee's discoveries, saying, “There is no justification for the failure to conduct the required presidential audits until a congressional inquiry was made. I have additional questions about the extent to which resource issues or fear of political retaliation from the White House contributed to lapses here.”

"Lying" alleged

As Politico noted, while on the campaign trail and beyond, Trump made repeated vows to release his tax returns once he was no longer under audit, but the House committee's recent revelations stand in contradiction to the assertion that his filings were under agency review at the time those promises were issued.

Former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen remarked on the apparent discrepancy, saying, “I suppose in retrospect, you shouldn't be totally surprised if that was erroneous information he was putting out, since it wouldn't be the first time.”

Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) also piled on, as Newsweek noted, saying, “Tonight we learned the IRS failed to follow the law and did not audit Donald Trump for years. Oh yeah and Trump was lying when he said he was under audit.”

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was particularly sarcastic in his reaction, tweeting, “Wait...I was under the impression that Trump was under continuous audits??? BULLS*** as usual!!! Only one Trump tax return as president got mandatory IRS audit, report says.”

Attempting to paint the issue as something that transcends her own political foe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted, “The @WaysMeansCmte's solemn oversight work has revealed the urgent need for legislation to ensure the public can trust in real accountability and transparency during the audit of a sitting president's tax returns – not only in the case of President Trump, but for any president.”

Eleventh-hour jabs

The waning days of Democratic control of Congress have been characterized by a flurry of other efforts designed to severely hamper any possibility of a future Trump presidency, and earlier this month, legislation was introduced in the House to ban the former president from ever holding federal office again, as CBS News reported.

According to the bill, the introduction of which was led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the 14th Amendment prohibits any prior federal office holder who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding any such office in the future, a clear reference to Democratic claims about Trump's involvement in the Capitol unrest of Jan. 6, 2021.

“Donald Trump very clearly engaged in an insurrection on January 6, 2021 with the intention of overturning the lawful and fair results of the 2020 election,” Cicilline declared.

“You don't get to lead a government you tried to destroy. Even [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell admits that Trump bears responsibility, saying on the Senate floor that '[t]here's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.'”

Trump undeterred

On Monday, the House select committee probing the events of Jan. 6 capped its 18 months of work by unanimously voting to send a series of criminal referrals of Trump to the Department of Justice, and though the agency is not required to take action on the findings, they were clearly designed to send a message to the American public before Republicans take control of the lower chamber.

For his part, however, Trump remained defiant in the face of the seemingly endless onslaught from Democrats, saying, according to The Hill, “These folks don't get it that when they come after me, people who love freedom rally around me. It strengthens me. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.” Whether that will hold true as he continues his already-declared 2024 campaign for the White House, only time will tell.