GOP Protects Trump’s Tax-Return Privacy: ‘No Single Individual Has Ever Been Targeted in Such a Manner’

By Susan Jones | March 29, 2017 | 7:10am EDT
The House Ways and Means Committee meets on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 to discuss a Democrat resolution directing the Treasury Secretary to release President Donald Trump's tax returns for public consumption. Republicans rejected the resolution 24-16. (Screen grab from C-SPAN)

( – The House Ways and Means Committee voted 24-16 Tuesday against a Democrat resolution directing the U.S. Treasury Department to gather ten years of Donald Trump’s tax returns and other confidential financial information and then turn it all over to Congress.

The outcome was a foregone conclusion, and it followed a contentious hearing, where Republicans accused Democrats of political stunts, and Democrats insisted it is their duty to investigate potential conflicts between Trump’s government position and his business interests.

“To my knowledge, and in our committee’s entire history, no single individual has ever been targeted in such a manner,” Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in his opening statement.

“This would be the first time the committee has exercised authority to weigh into the tax returns of a single individual with no tie to any investigation within our jurisdiction.”

Brady also said there is no “mechanism” by which the Treasury secretary could legally comply with the Democrats’ request, as written. Federal tax code permits confidential tax information to be submitted only to the committee for review, not to the full House.

“But beyond its obvious legal shortcomings, supporting this resolution would be a clear invasion of privacy,” Brady continued.

I would ask that all of our committee members take a step back for a moment and consider the dangerous precedent of abuse that would be set by this resolution.

If Congress chooses to use this power to single out President Trump for political purposes, invade his privacy and seize his confidential tax information, what prevents them from doing the same thing to other Americans?

Civil liberties and privacy are still rights worth protecting, and I intend to protect them.

Democrats argued that every president since Gerald Ford has voluntarily released their tax information, although there is no law requiring them to do so.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), the sponsor of House Resolution 186, told the committee, “It is our responsibility under the Constitution” to “provide oversight of the executive branch and root out conflicts of interest.”

He said Donald Trump’s decision to break with 40 years of “precedent” by refusing to release his tax returns “begs the question – what is he hiding?” (Democrats spent some of their time conjecturing about that.)

“We have justifiable cause, Mr. Chairman, not only to review simply for tax compliance but also for conflicts between his government position and his business interests,” Pascrell said.

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), an expert on complicated tax matters, told Pascrell that some of the information that Democrats are seeking would not be found in a tax return.

“Coming from someone who has audited, reviewed and prepared tax returns, 90 percent of what you talked about you will never find on a tax return,” Renacci told Pascrell.

“You’ll find interest income. You’ll find dividend income. Half the time, you won’t even find where that income’s coming from.” Renacci said a financial disclosure report, which all federal elected officials are required to file, is a better way to find the sources of a person’s income.

“This is a political mission, not a mission of fact,” Renacci said. He also noted that two congressional committees investigating President Trump’s ties to Russia. “We shouldn’t be interfering with that.”

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), responding to Renacci, said: “If there ever were a president who needed to disclose his tax returns, it is President Donald Trump."

Levin said even if only ten percent of the information sought by Democrats is available in Trump’s tax returns, “Let the public see it.”

“This committee should use its authority to better understand the connections between the president and his family and Russia,” Levin insisted.

Levin also said Trump’s tax returns are “directly relevant” to Congress’s efforts to reform the tax code: “It’s important to understand how such a tax reform would benefit the president, his 564 financial positions in domestic and foreign companies, and his self-reported net worth of more than $10 billion.”

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