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A House panel votes to publicly release a report on Trump's tax returns

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to publicly release six years of former President Donald Trump's tax returns. The committee's investigation also revealed the IRS failed to audit the former president during his first two years in office, despite a program that makes those audits mandatory. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee. Good morning, Congressman. Thank you for being on the program.

DON BEYER: Good morning, Leila. Thank you very much for the invitation.

FADEL: So let's start with why this is important, to release the former president's tax records, at this point, to the public.

BEYER: You know, this is - one of the things that was established back during the Teapot Dome scandal, you know, a hundred years ago, was that there's a Section 6103 in the law where the Congress can - the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee can actually request individual tax returns. And this was necessary, we believe, you know, four years ago when Chairman Neal initiated the request because Donald Trump was the first president since Richard Nixon not to release his tax returns, despite promising to do so. And there was an enormous question about whether the IRS was following the mandatory audit procedure. And of course, what we found out is that they weren't.

FADEL: Why? Do you know why that happened?

BEYER: Well, you know, it's really discouraging. We got six different tax returns ultimately, after a 3 1/2-year court battle, and they didn't initiate - they skipped the first two years completely. And on the third one, they only initiated the audit the day Richard Neal's letter from Congress was received. And even that - we discovered they put exactly one IRS agent on this hugely complex tax return, so it is understaffed, underresourced. And we end up, when you read the report, with so many unanswered questions.

FADEL: Are there consequences for these audits not happening, or could there be consequences?

BEYER: I don't think so. I hope the biggest consequence is the American public realizes it makes much more sense not to starve the IRS. You know, that right now, you know, it's difficult to get a phone call answered or a letter responded to. We also find out that they aren't doing their job auditing the president's tax returns. So and, of course, the basic principle here is that no one should be above the law.

FADEL: Now, releasing, publicly, tax returns has been a tradition since Nixon, and your Republican colleagues have been very critical of this party line vote, saying it's a breach of privacy. I mean, is that criticism founded?

BEYER: I don't think so. First of all, this is - this particular president was one who sought as much publicity as possible his entire life. And we are - the returns themselves we didn't release last night because we were going to be very careful in a bipartisan way to redact any personal information - Social Security numbers and addresses and things like that. And the basic part - you know, my Republican friends yesterday kept saying, this sets a terrible precedent.

FADEL: Right.

BEYER: Well, this is exactly the precedent they used back in 2014 when they were going after the IRS. It was used with Richard Nixon back in the early '70s. And the notion that we're going to go after private citizens is just silly. You know, Donald Trump was president of the United States, not an average private citizen.

FADEL: Does what the Ways and Means Committee - this investigation - does it set any precedent, new precedent, on what presidents should do with their tax records, with their tax returns?

BEYER: Well, we hope so. In fact, one of the interesting things yesterday, Leila, was most people on the panel, Democrats and Republicans, said, yes, let's make this the law rather than IRS rule. Let's just say this is what all presidents have to do moving forward. And, of course, you know that a number of states are working or have passed laws that says you can't be on the ballot in 2024 unless you released your tax returns.

FADEL: Why is it important to share this, to be transparent about this?

BEYER: Well, we just - I don't want to pick on President Trump particularly, but we know that he has business dealings all over the world. I wasn't - as I looked through the returns, I couldn't tell how much money he owed other countries or other governments. But that's relevant when you have, you know, major important decisions to make and a person to trust that their decisions with other countries are going to be based on the national good rather than their own personal welfare.

FADEL: Now, during your investigation, did you have access to all the information that you needed?

BEYER: No. And in fact, one of the biggest takeaways I got - I looked through all six years of returns, and this is a summary in the report, is there's a - I ended up $280 million worth of unsubstantiated deductions, you know, loss carried forward, deductions for costs of sales when there - it wasn't clear that anything was even being sold. But none of the supporting documentation was there. And of course, our criticism was, boy, if you had a thorough IRS audit, you'd want to dive deep on these things.

FADEL: Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, thanks so much for your time.

BEYER: Yeah, thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.