Democrats finally got Trump’s tax returns. Here's why we may never see them
President Donald J. Trump participates in a tax reform kickoff event at the Loren Cook Company, Wednesday, August 30, 2017, in Springfield, Missouri. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
WASHINGTON — Democrats won. Donald Trump lost. But, when it comes to the former president’s tax returns, it’s still unclear if this epic, nearly four-year-long battle will end in a draw, fines, or someone going to prison.

Of late, Trump and his lawyers have been on defense—battling allegations of felony tax fraud and, separately, defamation, along with suits brought by numerous police officers over Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—but this time, it’s House Democrats who are treading lightly out of fear of fines or imprisonment if they overstep and divulge the former president’s personal financial information without legal justification.

“It’s very sensitive information,” current, if outgoing, House Ways and Means (i.e. taxes) Committee Chair Richard Neal told reporters at the Capitol this week. “We intend to deal with it professionally.”

After a nearly four-year battle, at the end of November, the Supreme Court ruled the Treasury Department had to give Chair Neal six years’ worth of Trump’s tax returns. Raw Story has confirmed the documents have been passed to Neal’s committee. Even so, he’s legally obligated to stay mum.

“I have not acknowledged that I have them or don’t have them,” the Massachusetts Democrat told reporters in his ornate office just off the House floor. “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Neal, with his team of lawyers across from him motioning and counseling caution, divulged that he’s appointed agents to review the documents.

Again, the talkative Neal couldn’t, legally, say much more, which the seventeen-term House veteran lamented to Raw Story.

“It’s unusual,” Neal said. “It’s been quite a ride.”

Neal and Democrats only have about 30 days left in the majority, and the GOP is already measuring drapes.

Republicans, following Trump’s lead, call it a witch hunt. They’re prepared to bury most all Trump investigations when they take over the House on Jan. 3, but the chair maintains there’s nothing partisan about their investigation into Trump’s finances.

“This is about the presidency,” Neal said. “Every president since Richard Nixon, they have offered up their taxes for review and analysis, and virtually every case since the Nixon presidency, they’ve been volunteered.”

Trump promised to release his tax returns, though, in breaking contemporary precedent, he never did. Neal says that’s where the problem lies.

“Every president since Richard Nixon, they’ve offered up their tax forms for review and analysis. And in virtually every case now since the Nixon presidency, it’s been volunteered,” Neal said. “I think it would be fair to say it would be a good idea for presidents down the road to be required to release their tax forms.”

Neal huddled for more than an hour on Thursday with Democratic members of his tax-writing committee. He heard from many of them, while also laying out the minefield confronting them: One misstep and Democrats may find themselves in court.

“This is bigger than any of us thought when we started,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) told reporters after the meeting with Neal. “It’s not easy, and if we're not going to violate our oaths, we better know what we're talking about, and what we can't be talking about.”

While Trump was in the White House, his Treasury Department refused to hand over his returns, which reminded many committee members of the Nixon era.

“The sole basis for [Chair Neal] having these records is to demonstrate or determine whether the presidential audit system worked effectively,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) told reporters outside the tax-writing committee. “We know going back to the Nixon era that the IRS at that point claimed some things about how great they did, and when the records were obtained, it turned out that—while the president may not have been a crook—he had not paid all the taxes that he had due.”

Democrats have a short window to decide whether they can legally make Trump’s returns public, which most in the party seem to want. Doggett and others fear time is running out.

He says once they start digging into Trump’s IRS forms, they’ll likely need other supporting documents from the former president.

If Neal does decide to move forward and attempt to make Trump’s returns public, the entire Ways and Means Committee—Republicans included—will have to hold an executive session so they can debate the merits and then, if Democrats get their way, approve the disclosure.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Doggett knows Jan. 3 is a blink away.

“It's a big task to look at such voluminous filings, even though I believe those voluminous filings are probably insufficient to complete the job,” Doggett said. “All that we can say with certainty is, something will occur before this Congress is out of session.”