House panel releases documents of presidential tax return request before Trump

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday released documents showing Democrats’ request for President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE’s tax returns is not the first time Congress has requested a president’s tax returns from the IRS.

The documents show that in 1973, the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation requested then-President Richard Nixon’s tax returns from 1968 through 1972 from the IRS, and that the IRS provided the committee with the documents on the same day the request was made.

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In January 1974, the committee requested Nixon’s tax returns from 1963 through 1967. The following month, the IRS provided the committee with the returns from 1966 and 1967, but the agency said it didn’t have the documents for the earlier years.

“The point that we were trying to make is that after reference and research and successfully seeking documentation, we were able to establish that in fact the Joint Committee on Taxation did use 6103 to review President Nixon’s returns,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Top Republican rejects Democratic chairman's approach to stopping surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.) told reporters after the vote, referencing Section 6103 of the federal tax code.

Under Section 6103, the chairman of Congress’s tax committees — as well as the chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation, now called the Joint Committee on Taxation — can request tax returns from the Treasury Department. This is the same section of the tax code Neal used to request Trump’s personal and business tax returns for 2013 through 2018 from the IRS in April. 

The Treasury Department has rejected Neal’s request, leading Neal to file a lawsuit earlier this month in an effort to obtain Trump’s returns. The Trump administration has said on multiple occasions that they think Neal’s request is unprecedented.

But the documents the Ways and Means Committee released Thursday could help Neal to refute Treasury’s argument.

When a reporter asked Neal if his request for Trump’s returns isn’t unprecedented, Neal said, “I think you could say that.”

Before the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation requested Nixon’s tax returns, Nixon publicly released his tax returns from 1969 to 1972, and the committee had agreed to a request from Nixon to examine his returns from those years. The documents released Thursday also show that the committee requested Nixon’s tax returns for years prior to the documents that Nixon made public. Those documents predate Nixon’s presidency.

“It is noted in the materials that these returns were necessary because they were related to later tax years,” Neal said in a statement. “This is precisely why we requested returns prior to 2017 for President Trump.”

Release of the documents on the request for Nixon’s tax returns came after lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee reviewed portions of the documents behind closed doors in a meeting that was shrouded in mystery.

The panel has to meet in a closed session and then vote to send the documents to the full House if it wants to release tax-return information about a specific taxpayer.

Ahead of the meeting, Neal only announced that it was about “historical documents protected under Internal Revenue Code Section 6103.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were unaware of the contents of the documents before the meeting.

The meeting began with Neal moving to proceed to an executive session “due to the confidential nature of the subject matter.” 

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Top Republican rejects Democratic chairman's approach to stopping surprise medical bills America's workers and small business owners need the SECURE Act MORE (R-Texas), objected, saying “this has been a very troubling process.” Brady said that in the past when the committee held closed-doors meetings in the past to review tax documents, members were given 24 hours in advance to review them. But Neal said the motion was not debatable and the committee voted to go into executive session.

Brady also tried unsuccessfully to postpone the meeting to a later date. After doing so, reporters and members of the public were asked to leave the Ways and Means Committee room. About two hours and 15 minutes later, reporters could reenter the committee room and heard the committee vote to send the documents to the House on a party-line vote.

Several Republicans on the panel decided to leave the room without seeing the documents behind closed doors. 

Unauthorized disclosure of tax returns and return information is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Neal said that because some Republicans had concerns about liability, he decided to move to release the documents after committee members had one hour and 35 minutes to review about six paragraphs of the documents.

Brady blasted the process of examining the documents as a “travesty” since the documents were withheld in advance and Democrats didn’t provide a witness from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

He added in a statement that the documents shed no light and have no comparison to Democrats’ "illegitimate and unprecedented request.” 

“First, President Nixon voluntarily requested JCT audit his tax returns,” Brady said. “Secondly, the Nixon audits occurred before Congress rewrote the law to prevent Congress from seizing individual tax returns for political purposes as House Democrats are desperately trying to do." 

Joseph Thorndike, a historian for Tax Notes, said that while it’s true that Nixon asked for the examination of his returns, he did so “under some duress” because some information about his taxes had already leaked to the press.

“His back was up against the wall,” Thorndike said.