It’s been popular in Washington in recent years to lament Congress’s declining oversight powers, and with good reason. Donald Trump used lawsuits and new levels of stonewalling to effectively thwart myriad inquiries by House Democrats. He left office having successfully shielded his tax returns and survived two impeachments.
Yet in the waning days of Democrats’ House majority, it is becoming clear that assessment needs updating. After years of grinding, some of Congress’s efforts to shine light in the darker corners of the Trump presidency have turned out to be remarkably productive.
Just this week, a House committee took steps to reveal tax returns that Trump refused to release, after a yearslong fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the coming days, the public will be able to read documents for themselves that are almost certain to further undercut the image of financial prosperity that the former president has sought to fashion.
And today, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol plans to wrap up arguably the deepest congressional investigation in decades. Its investigators broke into Trump’s inner circle, broadcast damning testimony to tens of millions of Americans and are turning over reams of evidence to federal prosecutors.
Of course, this timing is not what Democrats initially hoped for when they swept into the House majority four years ago and pledged to conduct deep oversight of the Trump administration. And Republicans have attacked the recent investigations as abuses — not successes — of Congress’s investigative powers.
Those House Republicans are now preparing to begin their own inquiries into the Biden administration next year. The Biden White House will almost certainly try to slow them down, an executive branch maneuver that predates the Trump administration.
But Democrats’ 11th-hour oversight wins suggest that if Congress is willing to go to court, apply creative pressure and wait, its fact-finding function can still deliver results. In some cases, those results can prompt reforms. And in the end, Americans end up better informed about their government.
The struggle over Trump’s tax returns stretches back to his first presidential campaign, which began in 2015. He defied historical norms and refused to make public the documents. Once they took over the House majority in 2019, Democrats requested the returns from the I.R.S. ostensibly to assess the agency’s mandatory presidential audit program, setting off a fight to get them. The key to Democrats’ ultimate victory — delivered by the Supreme Court last month — was their willingness to commit to years of court fights (and holding on to their House majority 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 objected on privacy grounds and warned that the disclosure would set a dangerous precedent.
Here are the highlights so far, based on a summary congressional report:
Despite the program that requires audits of sitting presidents, the I.R.S. failed to audit Trump during the first two years of his presidency. It began auditing returns from those years only after he left office.
Those audits are still going on. Democrats are now pushing for a government watchdog to investigate and contemplating reforms to the audit program.
Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes in his first three years as president. But in 2020, as the Covid pandemic gripped the country, he reported a $4.8 million loss and paid zero income tax.
The documents added new information to reporting in The New York Times that shows he aggressively used chronic losses to avoid paying taxes, despite taking in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The Jan. 6 committee took direct aim at Trump this week in the finale to its own 18-month investigation. The panel voted on Monday to recommend that the Justice Department prosecute the former president for a range of crimes related to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Today it plans to release an 800-plus-page final report documenting that scheme in vivid detail. While investigators in other high-profile Trump-era congressional inquiries struggled to secure witnesses, the Jan. 6 team worked with more than 1,000 and left few major questions unanswered.
The witnesses included senior members of the administration, G.O.P. officials and other Republicans who were freer to talk after Trump left office or were motivated by the threat of legal action or by a disgust with his actions. It also helped that the committee did not include Republican members hostile to its mission who may have tried to undermine its work.
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An Italian treat goes global
Panettone was long a symbol of Christmas in Italy, where the domed sweet bread, scented with spices and dotted with fruit, was wrapped and given as a gift. In the past decade, it has burst past its Italian borders and gained a global profile, The Times’s Julia Moskin writes.
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 is causing hand-wringing among Italian bakers, who are determined to show that the original panettone is still the best.
The panettone saga follows the arc of pizza, which was underappreciated in its native country, said Laura Lazzaroni, a bread consultant. “Then people started coming home from America saying, ‘I had better pizza in California than in — insert name of my town in Italy here — and we have to do something about it.’”
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