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GOP seeks to redirect criticism over Trump tax returns

GOP seeks to redirect criticism over Trump tax returns
© Greg Nash

GOP lawmakers are trying to navigate the backlash from a bombshell New York Times report that showed President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE largely avoided paying income taxes for years and received more foreign income than previously known.

While Democrats quickly seized on the revelations and questioned whether Trump’s foreign entanglements posed a national security risk, Republicans tried to flip the narrative and follow the White House’s lead in denying the significance of the report.

Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOn The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, called for an investigation into the sources who leaked Trump’s tax records to The New York Times, arguing that “while many critics question the article’s accuracy, equally troubling is the prospect that a felony crime was committed by releasing the private tax return information of an individual — in this case the president’s.”

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Another GOP lawmaker similarly argued there should be more outrage over how the documents were obtained, coupled with skepticism of the reporting since Trump didn’t publicly release the information.

“Whether we agree or not that the president should or should not release his tax returns, that’s a political question. What is not a question is our tax returns are supposed to be inaccessible by the public and by the media. And to have many years, apparently, allegedly released or in some manner made available is a gross violation of the law,” the lawmaker told The Hill.

The New York Times said all of the information used in the article was obtained from sources with legal access to it. But Executive Editor Dean Baquet said the newspaper would not make the records public to avoid jeopardizing sources who took “enormous personal risks to help inform the public.”

The IRS said in a statement Tuesday that it has “extensive measures in place” to track unauthorized access to and disclosure of taxpayers’ information and found no issues with its processes.

“In response to recent press reports, the IRS has taken steps to reconfirm the integrity of its processes and procedures for protecting all taxpayers’ return information, including the enhanced safeguards, and has found no issues. Nevertheless, and in an abundance of caution, the Commissioner has requested that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration take all appropriate steps to confirm the IRS’s finding,” the agency said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Grassley: Voters should be skeptical of Biden's pledge to not raise middle class taxes GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (R-Iowa), meanwhile, blamed the IRS for taking a long time to complete an audit of Trump’s tax returns.

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“The thought that comes to my mind is how come it’s taking the IRS so long to get the audits done. I am concerned that the IRS is not getting their work done,” Grassley told reporters Monday when asked if he had read the New York Times report that came out the day before.

“I want to wait until the IRS gets done so I know how much he owes,” Grassley added.

The IRS is auditing a $72.9 million tax refund that Trump claimed and received in 2010. If the IRS rules against Trump in its review, the president would have to repay that amount plus interest.

The IRS is required to provide reports to Congress, via the Joint Committee on Taxation, on refunds for individuals that exceed $2 million. But the agency is not obligated to comply with any committee requests for adjusting individual refunds.

A spokesperson for the Joint Committee on Taxation told The Hill that the staff doesn't comment on its review of cases or potential refunds.

Republican attempts to redirect criticism over Trump’s questionable business practices came as the president prepared to face off against Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE in the high-stakes first presidential debate.

Hours before Tuesday night’s showdown, Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Obama says he voted by mail: 'It's not as tough as a lot of folks think' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis MORE (D-Calif.), made a point of releasing their 2019 tax returns.

Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, reported an adjusted gross income of $985,233 and paid a total of $299,346 in taxes, for an effective tax rate of about 30 percent.

The New York Times report found that Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in both 2016 and 2017 and paid no taxes in 10 of the 15 previous years, largely because he reported losing more money than he made.

A lawyer for the Trump Organization told The New York Times that the president has paid “tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.” But “personal taxes” appeared to be referring to other taxes such as Social Security, Medicare and taxes for household employees.

The records obtained by The New York Times found that Trump’s businesses reported losing millions of dollars for several years, while his revenue from NBC’s “The Apprentice” and related licensing deals is running out.

Meanwhile, foreign revenue from golf properties and licensing deals in other countries totaled $73 million during Trump’s first two years in office. Trump or his companies paid more than $300,000 in taxes in Panama, India and the Philippines in 2017, even though he paid a far smaller amount in the U.S.

House Democrats filed a lawsuit last year to obtain Trump’s tax returns, which remains stuck in litigation.

Beyond hammering Trump for “not paying his fair share” in taxes, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump predicts GOP will win the House Hillicon Valley: Five takeaways on new election interference from Iran, Russia | Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump | Republicans on Senate panel subpoena Facebook, Twitter CEOs | On The Money: Pelosi cites progress, but says COVID-19 relief deal might be post-election | Eviction crisis sparked by pandemic disproportionately hits minorities | Weekly jobless claims fall to 787K MORE (D-Calif.) suggested that Trump’s foreign income and debts could pose a national security risk.

“It’s very unfair, not paying his fair share. But what’s important to the commander in chief is that he not jeopardize our national security or in any way have it affect any decision that he makes because he is expecting to get some money to pay his debts,” Pelosi said Tuesday on MSNBC.

“If we knew that someone had that exposure, that would be — they would not be able to get a federal job. And if they were on the other side, that would be an opportunity for us to exploit their indebtedness and try to recruit them to our side,” Pelosi added.

Republicans downplayed that notion and emphasized that the report did not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia, which interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump and is actively doing so again this year.

“The media promised that President Trump’s tax returns would reveal deep ties to Russia. Didn’t happen! Know whose finances would reveal deep ties to Russia? Hunter Biden,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments McCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Ohio) tweeted Tuesday.

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A Senate GOP report released last week accused an investment firm linked to Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, of receiving $3.5 million from the wife of a former Moscow mayor. His lawyer denied that there was a financial relationship.

The GOP report acknowledged that it is “not clear” how much of an impact Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma had on U.S. policy while his father served as vice president, but argued it created “awkwardness” for the State Department at the time.

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins MORE (R-La.) similarly accused Democrats of attempting to deflect attention away from Tuesday’s debate.

“What they’re trying to do is throw out smoke and more smoke in the hope that somebody sees a fire because they don’t want people looking at Joe Biden’s ties to Russia, for example,” Scalise said during an appearance on Fox News Radio.

“Why didn’t the Obama-Biden administration help our friends, the Ukrainians, when they wanted to get those tank-busting missiles when Russia was coming into Eastern Europe? Why? Because the mayor of Moscow gave money to Biden’s son.”