In recent years, it has been popular in Washington to lament Congress’s diminishing powers of scrutiny, and with good reason. Donald Trump used lawsuits and new levels of deadlock to effectively thwart countless requests from House Democrats. He left office after successfully shielding his tax returns and surviving two impeachment trials.
But in the dwindling days of the majority in the House of Democrats, it’s becoming clear that the assessment needs to be updated. After years of grinding, some of Congress’ efforts to shed light on the darker corners of the Trump presidency have proven remarkably productive.
Just this week, a House committee took steps to disclose tax returns Trump refused to release after a year-long battle that went as far as the Supreme Court. In the coming days, the public will be able to read documents for themselves that will almost certainly further undermine the image of financial prosperity that the former president sought to create.
And today, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol plans to complete what is arguably the deepest Congressional investigation in decades. His investigators infiltrated Trump’s inner circle, leaked scathing testimony to tens of millions of Americans, and turned vast amounts of evidence over to federal prosecutors.
Of course, this timing isn’t what Democrats originally hoped for when they swept into the House majority four years ago and vowed to closely monitor the Trump administration. And Republicans have attacked the recent investigations as an abuse — not a success — of Congress’ investigative powers.
These House Republicans are now preparing to launch their own investigation into the Biden administration over the next year. The Biden White House will almost certainly try to slow them down, an executive maneuver that predates the Trump administration.
But the Democrat victories in the 11th hour suggest that if Congress is willing to go to court, apply creative pressure, and wait, its investigative function can still produce results. In some cases, these results can lead to reforms. And in the end, Americans are better informed about their government.
The fight over Trump’s tax returns dates back to his first presidential campaign, which began in 2015. He defied historical norms and refused to publish the documents. After taking control of the House of Representatives in 2019, Democrats requested the IRS’s tax returns, ostensibly to assess the agency’s president’s mandatory auditing program, and started a fight to get them. Key to the Democrats’ ultimate victory — delivered by the Supreme Court last month — was their willingness to engage in years of court battles (and hold on to their majority in the House of Representatives in 2020).
On Tuesday, Democrats voted to begin releasing thousands of pages of Trump’s personal and business tax records in the coming days. Republicans protested over privacy concerns, warning that disclosure would set a dangerous precedent.
Here are the highlights so far, based on a synopsis report from the Congress:
Despite the program of scrutiny of incumbent presidents, the IRS did not scrutinize Trump for the first two years of his presidency. Only after he left office did it begin to check the tax returns from those years.
These audits are still ongoing. Democrats are now pushing for a government watchdog to investigate and consider reforms to the testing program.
Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes in his first three years as president. But in 2020, as the Covid pandemic swept the country, he reported a $4.8 million loss and paid no income tax.
The documents added new information to New York Times reporting showing that he aggressively used chronic losses to avoid paying taxes despite making hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The January 6 committee aimed squarely at Trump in the finale of its own 18-month investigation this week. The panel voted Monday to recommend that the Justice Department prosecute the former president for a series of crimes related to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
A more than 800-page final report is to be published today, documenting this scheme in detail. While investigators in other high-profile congressional probes of the Trump-era struggled to find witnesses, the Jan. 6 team worked with more than 1,000 and left few key questions unanswered.
Witnesses included senior government officials, GOP officials and other Republicans who spoke more freely after Trump left office or who were motivated by threats of legal action or disgust at his actions. It also helped that the committee did not include Republican members who were hostile to his mission and may have sought to undermine his work.
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An Italian treat goes worldwide
Panettone has long been a symbol of Christmas in Italy, where the domed sweet bread, scented with spices and sprinkled with fruit, was wrapped and given as gifts. In the last decade it has transcended its Italian borders and gained a global profile, writes Julia Moskin of The Times.
Bakers have infused the treat with new flavors like black sesame, dulce de leche and Aperol Spritz, and panettone baking competitions have sprung up in Japan and Singapore. The international fanfare wrings the hands of Italian bakers who are keen to show that the original panettone is still the best.
The panettone saga follows the arc of pizza, which was underrated in her home country, said Laura Lazzaroni, a bread consultant. “Then people came home from America and said, ‘I had better pizza in California than in — insert the name of my city in Italy here — and we have to do something about it.'”
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