By Anthony Zurcher
A committee in the US House of Representatives has voted to make public six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The move caps a nearly four-year legal battle by Democrats to obtain the documents, which was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court last month.
US presidents are not required by law to release their tax returns, but for decades they have done so voluntarily.
The former president has fought hard to shield his tax returns.
The US House Ways and Means Committee voted 24-16 on Tuesday evening to publish the documents, with all Democrats on the panel in favour and all Republicans opposed.
One of the committee members, Pennsylvania Democrat Brendan Boyle, said afterwards: “This is one of the most important votes I will ever cast as a member of Congress, and I stand by it 100%.”
But Kevin Brady, the ranking Republican on the committee, said Democrats had just “unleashed a dangerous new political weapon”.
“Congress’ enemies list is back,” said the Texas congressman. “Every American taxpayer who may get on the wrong side of majority in Congress is now at risk.”
It is unclear when the public will see the financial documents which stem from 2015-20, when Mr Trump was running for president and serving in the White House.
Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat on the panel, told CNN the release of the files could take “a few days” in order to redact personal information such as Social Security numbers.
The returns could offer a first-hand look into Mr Trump’s finances, including his assets, sources of income, charitable contributions and liabilities, including the possibility of loans owed to foreign entities.
In 2016, Mr Trump became the first major-party presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1972 to decline to publicly release his tax returns while campaigning for office. At the time, he said he would do so after an Internal Revenue Service audit had concluded.
However, on Tuesday Democrats on the panel said that Mr Trump was not actually under an audit in 2016, and that the Internal Revenue Service did not begin their official audit until 2019.
The House Ways and Means Committee had first sought the returns when Democrats took over the lower chamber of Congress in 2019. The committee, citing a federal law allowing it to request special access to individual tax returns, said the information was necessary as a part of a review of federal tax law.
Republican critics, however, have countered that such explanations were merely an excuse to access Mr Trump’s financial documents.
The Trump administration refused to co-operate with the committee’s request, prompting a drawn-out legal battle that ended when the US Supreme Court, in an unsigned opinion, upheld an appellate court ruling that the Democrats were entitled to the returns.
In 2020, the New York Times obtained leaked copies of 18 years of Mr Trump’s tax returns. In a series of articles on the topic, the newspaper reported that the president paid no federal taxes in 10 of those 18 years and only $750 (£615) in each of his first two years in the White House. It also disclosed that the then-president was in a fight with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9m tax refund he had claimed and owed more than $400m in debt due by 2024.
A representative of Mr Trump’s business empire denied the accuracy of the report at the time. Official copies of the former president’s tax returns, which are now expected to be released before Republicans take control of Congress on 3 January, should settle the matter.
The vote comes one day after a Democratic-led congressional panel asked the US justice department prosecute the former president for insurrection and other criminal charges related to last year’s riot by his supporters at the Capitol in Washington DC.