WASHINGTON (AP) – It’s one of the darkest functions of Congress that is little known or understood even by most lawmakers. But perhaps it once brought employees into possession of one of the most enduring secrets of the Donald Trump era: his tax records, recently revealed to the world by the New York Times.
The Times report contained a series of bombshell revelations about Trump’s financesThat includes he paid just $ 750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and has $ 421 million in debt. Trump has long refused to publish his tax returns and accused an IRS audit.
This is where the Congress comes in. The Trump tax audit has been conducted by employees of the Joint Tax Committee for more than four years, according to the Times, which has 30 days to review individual refunds and tax credits over $ 2 million. If JCT staff disagree with the IRS on a decision, the review is usually held open until the matter is resolved.
The result is that information about Trump̵
Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes taxes, defended the JCT, according to the Times report, insisting that the panel has no copies of tax forms relating to Trump.
“You’re not with JCT,” said Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, D-Mass. “I don’t see any evidence that you are sitting on these forms.”
However, lawmakers didn’t say whether the JCT was reviewing a tax refund with the participation of the President. Kevin Brady, tax expert for the Neal and Top Republican house, said the panel typically completes its reviews in a month or two at the most.
“The vast majority of JCT reimbursement reviews are processed quickly and JCT very rarely raises concerns about the results of the IRS review,” said Brady, who previously chaired the panel. “Contrary to what the Times reported, JCT has been pending for the longest year in my opinion. I think we should focus on the facts as much as possible. “
The joint tax legislator is provided with summary information on the categories of cases dealt with and the duration of their processing. However, the information is not published. Even acknowledging that Trump’s taxes were before the panel is forbidden.
“That comes too close to the discussion of potential tax return information, which is protected by the internal tax code,” said joint tax chief Thomas Barthold, declining to comment on the Times’ Trump story.
Trump Organization officials did not respond to communications for comment and confirmation that the Joint Tax Committee had reviewed Trump’s taxes.
Here’s how the process works: If an individual refund or credit is approved for $ 2 million, the IRS must legally notify Congress. A dedicated team at the IRS prepares a case-by-case report for the JCT that includes tax information, spreadsheets, technical data and analysis. A letter should have been sent to Trump revealing that his case had been sent to the JCT for review.
Even when the JCT searched Trump’s tax information, it should have remained inaccessible to the five Democrats and five Republicans on the committee. The reviews are carried out by the panel’s tax experts and attorneys, who typically work in a specialized area at an IRS facility. The legislature does not participate.
“It is only held in the hands of a few attorneys dedicated to this work. And they know they can’t tell anyone about it, ”said George Yin, a law professor emeritus at the University of Virginia who was JCT chief of staff from 2003-2005.
Former JCT employees, citing the confidentiality rules, did not comment on whether they remembered the argument with Trump. Unauthorized disclosure of tax return information can result in a felony conviction and imprisonment for 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 few hundred cases a year. And usually the JCT – which includes former IRS staff – upholds the IRS’s decision.
“A lot of them were pretty easy. It wasn’t a drama, ”said Kies. “Only occasionally did we get one that had an interpretation of the law that we didn’t agree with.”
While the Joint Committee seldom makes headlines, it plays a crucial role in policymaking and providing cost estimates that can be useful for proposed tax legislation. It was instrumental in creating the Obama administration’s health bill and the GOP’s tax revision in 2017.
The office is headed by Chief of Staff Barthold, a Harvard Ph.D. Economist who has served on the Board for more than 30 years. A top contributor to the JCT since 2009, he’s one of the few who may know if the exam has been reviewed by Trump. However, he is legally prohibited from disclosing most information related to the committee’s audit work.
What remains unresolved is a full accounting of Trump’s finances, which Democrats say will illustrate numerous conflicts of interest between his companies and his presidency. They point to Trump’s reported $ 421 million debt, which ethics experts say raises serious national security concerns.
Neal, the leading force behind a Democratic lawsuit to expose Trump’s taxes, said Times coverage was evidence that the documents should be turned over to Congress. The existence of the exam also strengthens their litigation, he said, as the democratic inquiry focuses on this very issue.
“That is what this case was about – let the IRS tell us how the testing is done,” said Neal. “That has always been our case.”
Associate press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.