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The audit likely gave Congressional staff an idea of ​​Trump’s taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) – It is one of the darkest functions of Congress, little known or understood even by most lawmakers. But it may once have put staff in possession of one of the most enduring mysteries of Donald Trump’s era: his tax data, which the New York Times revealed to the world.

Last month’s Times report included a series of bombshell revelations about Trump’s finances, including the fact that he only paid $ 750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and owes $ 421 million in debt. Trump has long refused to release his tax returns, blaming an IRS audit.

This is where Congress comes in. Trump̵

7;s tax audit, the Times reported, has been suspended for more than four years by staff members of the Joint Taxation Committee, which has 30 days to review individual refunds and tax credits over $ 2 million. When JCT personnel disagree with the IRS on a decision, the review is generally kept open until the matter is resolved.

The result is that Trump’s tax information, which Democrats are now demanding to see, has almost certainly passed through the hands of the JCT, putting it tantalizingly close to lawmakers.

Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee for drafting taxes defended the JCT after the Times report and were emphatic that the panel had no copies of Trump-related tax forms.

“They’re not sitting at JCT,” said House Ways and Means committee chair Richard Neal, D-Mass. “I don’t see any evidence they’re sitting on those forms.”

But lawmakers haven’t said whether the JCT has looked into any tax refunds involving the president. Neal and Texas House Republican top tax expert Kevin Brady said the panel typically completes its reviews in a month or two, at most.

“The vast majority of JCT reimbursement reviews are processed quickly and very rarely does JCT express concern about the results of the IRS audit,” said Brady, who previously chaired the panel. “Contrary to what the Times reported, I think the longest period JCT has ever had a pending case was one year. I think we should focus as much as possible on the facts.”

Joint tax lawmakers are provided with summary information on the categories of cases handled and the time required to process them, but the information is not made public. Even acknowledging that Trump’s taxes were before the panel was verboten.

“This comes too close to talking about potential tax return information, which is protected by the internal tax code,” said Thomas Barthold, the Joint Tax chief of staff, declining to comment on the Times’ Trump story.

Trump Organization representatives did not respond to messages seeking comment and confirmation that the Joint Tax Committee had reviewed Trump’s taxes.

How the process works: When an individual refund or credit in excess of $ 2 million is approved, the IRS is required by law to notify Congress. A designated team at the IRS prepares a report for the JCT on each individual case that contains taxpayer information, spreadsheets and technical data and analysis. Trump should have been sent a letter revealing that his case had been sent to the JCT for review.

Even when the JCT was sifting through Trump’s tax information, it should have remained beyond the reach of the five Democrats and five Republicans on the committee. The audits are done by the panel’s tax experts and attorneys, who typically work in a dedicated space in an IRS facility. Lawmakers don’t participate.

“It is held fairly firmly in the hands of a few lawyers on the staff who are dedicated to doing this work. And they know they don’t communicate it to outsiders, ”said George Yin, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Virginia who was JCT’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2005.

Former JCT staff members did not comment on whether they recalled the dispute with Trump, citing confidentiality rules. Unauthorized release of tax return information can mean a felony conviction and a prison sentence of up to five years.

Kenneth Kies, a tax attorney who served as the committee’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1998, said the committee typically handled a “couple of hundred” cases a year. And usually the JCT – which includes former IRS staff members – ratifies the IRS decision.

“Many of them were quite simple. Those weren’t a drama, “Kies said.” Only occasionally did we get one where there was an interpretation of the law that we disagreed with. ”

Although the Joint Committee rarely makes headlines, it plays a crucial role in policy making, providing cost estimates that can be decisive for proposed tax legislation. He was instrumental in the creation of the Obama administration’s health care law and the 2017 GOP tax review.

The office is overseen by Chief of Staff Barthold, a Harvard graduate student. economist who has worked on the panel for more than 30 years. As JCT’s first staff member since 2009, he is among the very few who may know if Trump’s audit has been re-examined. But he is legally prohibited from disclosing most of the information related to the committee’s audit work.

A comprehensive account of Trump’s finances remains unsolved, which Democrats say will illustrate numerous conflicts of interest between his businesses and his presidency. They point to Trump’s $ 421 million debt, which ethics experts say raises serious national security concerns.

Neal, the driving force behind a Democratic cause to expose Trump’s taxes, said the Times report is proof that the documents should be turned over to Congress. The existence of the audit also strengthens their legal case, he said, as the democratic investigation focuses precisely on this issue.

“That’s what this case was all about – ask the IRS to tell us how auditing is done,” Neal said. “It has always been our case.”


Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.

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