Congress

Eyeing Trump taxes, House panel releases Nixon documents

Kevin Brady, top Ways and Means Republican, calls move “a travesty”

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal says the Nixon documents show that his own request for the president’s tax returns is not unprecedented. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday released documents relating to a Dec. 13, 1973, request by the Joint Committee on Taxation for President Richard Nixon’s tax returns that show five years of returns were provided the same day by the IRS.

Committee Democrats said the significance of the documents is that Nixon’s tax returns and other private tax information were handed over to what was then called the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation because of authority under Section 6103 of the tax code. 

But House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady said the situations are completely different. The Texas Republican noted that Nixon voluntarily agreed to be audited by the committee. After the audit, which concentrated on his use of charitable deductions, the president had to pay the IRS $465,000.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has said he will not comply with House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal’s Section 6103 request for six years of Trump’s tax returns and those of eight Trump companies. Democrats have argued that part of their oversight responsibility is to examine the annual automatic audit process for presidential tax returns put in place after the Nixon case, and whether the IRS official in charge of a presidential audit is shielded from pressure.

It has been almost four months since Neal first invoked that same statute in requesting six years of tax returns and associated information for Trump and his companies. The statute states that the IRS “shall furnish” tax returns and tax return information upon receiving a written request from the JCT, Ways and Means or Senate Finance Committee leaders.

Neal suggested reporters should look at the dates of the letters between the IRS and JCT in 1973 and 1974. “You can reference the speed of the request in the dates on the documents,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

In letters that the Ways and Means panel voted 25-10 on Thursday to release, IRS Commissioner Donald C. Alexander wrote that he sent five years of tax returns of both Nixon and his daughter Patricia R. Nixon on Dec. 13, 1973.

Other tax documents were provided by the IRS over the next two months, according to subsequent letters. A JCT report on the documents says that besides receiving Nixon’s 1968-72 tax returns, agency officials also looked at “a limited number of items” in returns dating back to 1964. Accountant’s work papers relating to the returns were also examined back to 1964.

“We were able to establish that in fact the Joint Committee on Taxation did use 6103 to review President Nixon’s returns,” Neal said.

In his May 6 denial of Neal’s request for Trump’s tax returns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the request “unprecedented.”

Asked if the JCT documents showing that the IRS supplied Nixon’s tax returns showed that his request wasn’t unprecedented, Neal said, “I think you could say that.”

On Tuesday, the Ways and Means panel announced it would hold a meeting to consider “historical documents protected under Internal Revenue Code Section 6103.” Anticipation and speculation about what documents might be included ran high. Committee Democrats said that they didn’t know what the documents were and that Neal was mum on the topic. Brady complained the meeting was “shrouded in secrecy.”

Shortly after convening, Neal called for a vote to go into executive session to examine the documents, which passed on a party-line tally with only Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett voting against. Doggett later said he thought that the executive session was unnecessary and that the meeting should have been held in public.

Brady said the situation in 1973 does not apply to this year’s conflict between Neal and Trump.

“This is a travesty,” the Texas Republican said in a release. He complained that the 20 pages of documents were not provided in advance and that a JCT witness was not made available for questioning.

“Ways and Means Democrats made it clear they will stop at nothing to seize President Trump’s tax returns and make them public in violation of the law,” he said.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Ways and Means filed suit in federal district court in Washington asking for enforcement of its subpoenas to obtain Trump’s tax returns. That lawsuit was the first legal action from House Democrats to enforce a subpoena among their numerous investigations into the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, Trump filed suit in federal district court in Washington against the Ways and Means Committee and officials in New York State, seeking to bar the release of his state returns to Neal as is allowed by a recently passed state law.

Doggett said the documents the committee released Thursday help Neal’s case to procure Trump’s tax returns. “There’s a precedent” to use that section of the tax code to get a president’s tax returns, he said.

“There’s a claim that it’s never been used before,” Doggett said. “Well, it has been used and effectively.”

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