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House Committee To Release Trump's Tax Returns Within Days; Biden Administration Asks Supreme Court To End Title 42, With A Delay; Lawmakers Face Friday Deadline To Pass $1.7t Spending Bill. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 21, 2022 - 12:30   ET




PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The House Ways and Means Committee will release Donald Trump's tax return within days. And that's what Democratic Chairman Richard Neal told reporters after the panel voted along party lines yesterday to release six years of the former president's tax information. But Republicans are warning this sets a dangerous political precedent. CNN's chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now from the Capitol. So what can we expect, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more information in a matter of days. Of course, this coming after years of court battles between Donald Trump and House Democrats. House Democrats ultimately won, got six years of Donald Trump's personal tax returns, as well as tax returns related to his businesses. Those came over just a few weeks ago and then yesterday along straight party lines, voting to release those returns.

Now, we do expect that the returns, the full documents that they have obtained to be released within days. They said that they plan to redact key information, sensitive security information. Then they will be out in the public sphere. But we're also getting a taste of what the Committee has investigated so far. One report they issued looked into the IRS auditing, mandatory audits of sitting presidents. They say it was dormant during the time when Donald Trump was president, which raises concerns among Democrats. They said that it should have happened, given Trump's vast financial holdings and whether there were any conflicts of interest that Donald Trump had as he was signing bills into law and dealing with other policy issues.

They said that audits actually occurred in April of 2019, when Richard Neal, the chairman of the Committee, the Democrat, sent a letter to the IRS asking about those presidential audits. That's when they took place. And we also have learned some information of Donald Trump's own personal wealth. He has incurred a number of losses over the years, shielded his tax liability, paid a lot of taxes, but also cut down those taxes and paid zero in federal taxes in 2020. Pamela?

BROWN: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig, great to see you both. All right, so let's just jump right in, starting off with the significance of this. It's not every day that Congress releases the tax returns of a former president, but at the same time, most presidents disclose their tax returns when they're running for office. I think we just lost Mark right there. So, Elie, I'm going to go to you on that question. What is the significance of the Committee releasing the former president's tax returns?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Pam, I think when we see these tax returns, which should happen in a few days, we will know much more about Donald Trump's true financial situation. Was he profitable or not? The answer appears to be not. Most importantly, really, where were his debts? Where did he owe people? Could those people possibly have used those debts as leverage over him? This is something that even routine level executive department employees like I once was have to disclose. So we'll get a lot more transparency at the Donald Trump's true financial situation and what his motivations may have been.

BROWN: And Mark, I think we have you back. I want to note when Democrats were in the court battle that's lasted for years, they made the case that, look, this is not about releasing this to the public. This is because we want to look at legislation, but that is exactly what they're doing, and they found a legal loophole to do so by releasing it to, you know, to the Senate that essentially releases it to the public. What do you make of Democrats doing this?

MARK EVERSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, ALLIANTGROUP: Look, I think there are really three questions here. The first question is, should candidates for the presidency and presidents themselves release their tax returns? That was the question we started with in 2016. And I still think that's the most important question. And then you got a part of that is doing this way, does that help solve that public policy question? I would suggest to you that, no, it does not.


Then there's the second question of what's on those returns itself. That remains to be seen. And then the third piece is how the IRS did its job in terms of auditing here. The first question what you're getting at is you're exactly right, they wanted this information. I think that information should be out there. I've been on the record. We've seen it and others saying that since 2016.

But doing it in this way really has kind of undercut, I think, the credibility to a great degree, because Donald Trump is no longer the president. He left office two years ago. So it's much less compelling, if you will. And as you suggest, the law says you have to have a legislative intent so they navigated this narrow channel, if you will, to get to this objective to release the returns.

BROWN: What do you think, Elie?

HONIG: Yes, I think there was really some legal sleight of hand used by the Ways and Means Committee here, to put it charitably. First of all, when they had a court battle, they are entitled to get those returns from IRS under the law. But during this court battle, the Ways and Means Committee repeatedly told our courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, no, no, no, we're not just looking for a way to make these returns public. Well, guess what they're doing just now. The other part of that is the very law that the Ways and Means Committee used to get these reports, which, again, they're entitled to do, says, you can only deal with these reports in closed session, and you have to maintain them confidentially unless the person consents.

Of course, Donald Trump has not consented, and instead the Committee found this loophole that says, but what you can do is put them on the Congressional record, which we all know, as a practical matter, is as good as making it public. So they've been crafty here in the way they've used the law, and I think the precedent that they're setting here could ultimately be a longer term problem regardless of party affiliation.

BROWN: And of course, Republican -- go ahead.

EVERSON: No, I agree with that 100 percent. What -- look, the Democrats have had the House, the Senate, and the presidency for two years. They could have put through a legislative proposal to say tax returns of candidates and presidents should be made public and leave Donald Trump out of it. That would have gone through. Instead, now we've had a further politicization, if you will, of tax administration at a time when the administration is very interested in spending the 80 billion, getting the IRS healthy. And this just isn't helpful, if you will. That's what I think.

BROWN: And then I want to, before we let you go, talk more about the criticism from the Committee of the IRS in its auditing. The Committee says its investigation revealed only one mandatory audit was started under the prior administration, and the program was otherwise dormant at best. This is what Democrats is using as justification for legislation. Here's what Democrat Dan Kildee of Michigan said.


REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): She did this in 2019 with the intention of determining whether we needed to take up legislation to address what seemed to be a weakness in the audits of presidents. The reason it took so long was because of Donald Trump. Those returns raise all sorts of red flags, and we think in order for Congress to act in the American public to judge our actions, we have to be able to look at both of those facts.


BROWN: Elie, what do you make of his argument?

EVERSON: Well, I think that there's --

HONIG: Well, here's the problem, Pam, so --

BROWN: Oh, sorry, Mark, I'll get you in just a second. Go ahead, Elie.

EVERSON: Oh, OK, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, go ahead. HONIG: So here's the problem. I think it's a legitimate point and a legitimate problem to point out that Donald Trump's taxes were not audited as they should have been during his first two years in office. The disconnect, though, is why would Congress need to see Donald Trump's individual tax returns, his specific assets, his specific liabilities, in order to figure that out, in order to legislate around it. Again, it goes back to the, I think, fairly flimsy pretext that the Ways and Means Committee has been using all along to get their hands on these returns.

BROWN: Quickly, Mark?

EVERSON: Yes. Look, we just had this kerfuffle about the Comey and McCabe audits, TIGTA, the inspector general looked at it and came back and gave a report. If you're looking at a program which the audits of presidents is a program, TIGTA should be looking at it. And then Congress uses the information they develop to make its decisions about what should be done with the program. That's what I think would have been better here, instead of supercharging it politically.

BROWN: All right, thank you both so much for your input analysis. We appreciate it.


And up next, the White House wants Title 42 to expire, but not just yet. And while the legal fight drags on, people at the border are caught right in the middle.


BROWN: And turning now to the latest on the situation at the southern border, the Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to end a Trump era policy that allows officials to turn back migrants, but not just yet. They say they need at least a week to prepare for a surge of migrants that officials warn could overwhelm government facilities and border communities. Our panel is back with us. What do you make of this, Jeff, this request to the court? Hey, we want it lifted. Just give us a few days because there's going to be such a surge.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean they can see the surge. We can see the surge from our reporting down there. It's -- this is something the White House has been tracking for a very long time and they knew it was coming. So another weeks they're hoping, can ease the burden. But the reality is there is still no broader talk about a bigger, more permanent solution to this problem. So in the short term, they do have a plan to fly and shuttle people. But the bigger conversation Washington still has not had about comprehensive immigration reform and I do not expect that to happen in the new Congress certainly as well. So that's the bigger issue.


BROWN: I mean, we've been reporters in Washington for so many years. How often does it always come back to this, the comprehensive immigration reform and it not getting done, Tia, and you have Kyrsten Sinema, Senator Sinema, saying she's going to lead a bipartisan trip to the border next year. She has partnered with Republican Senator Tillis on a last minute immigration deal, really pushing this forward. Here's what she's had to say.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): A part of the problem is that many in Washington have never taken the time to really see our border up close. We're going to bring them to the border. We're going to see what Arizonans see every single day because a crisis this big should not and cannot be ignored.


BROWN: Does this put more pressure on President Biden and his Vice President to visit?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: I think it does put pressure, but I think Biden and VP Harris have resisted visiting because their whole point is it's not about the possible dog and pony show of a border visit. It's about the actual policy that isn't getting done, that needs to be done by Congress. Congress is who needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform and hasn't done it.

BROWN: What do you think about what the Commerce Secretary said? According to Axios, immigration is a lever. We're down a million immigrants a year. That's a workforce that we need. That's how they're trying to make this case. We need them in here.

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, the White House officials know that if Democrats are talking about immigration that they are generally going to be on the losing side. And they will privately acknowledge this is really not an issue that they want to engage in especially.

And there has been a lot of concern about a Title 42 lifting because they are not prepared for a surge in migrants at the border. I think they're caught in this very politically difficult position where this is a Trump era policy that's been very controversial, progressives, some Democrats have been putting pressure on them to lift it, but ultimately they're not prepared. And like Jeff said, there is no long term plan for how to deal with this.

So, yes, you can say we need those workers, but we all know it's not that simple. And the administration is going to get blamed even if the responsibility is ultimately on Congress when they inevitably don't have enough beds and houses for migrants. And I think there is a lot of concern about unaccompanied minors and those images just flooding again. And even if there's limited things they can do with executive authority, this is still going to fall on them when this all kind of inevitably happens.

BROWN: In the meantime, these border towns like El Paso, they're having to try to accommodate the surge. This is what the mayor, who had announced the safe emergency, had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR OSCAR LEESER (D), EL PASO, TEXAS: Right now we do know that we do have a broken immigration process, and it needs to be fixed. So this is strictly a band aid on something that needs to be fixed in the very short term, because, like you said a minute ago, it's something that we cannot sustain.


BROWN: Do you think, Jeff, that the fight from here is going to get uglier as we look to the New Year?

ZELENY: Without a doubt. I mean, there just simply is not an appetite for any type of serious discussion on this. This is now going to be used as a weapon against the Biden administration. And, yes, there are plenty of criticisms for this administration on that, but we're going to see impeachment proceedings, potentially, in the new Republican controlled Congress on the Department of Homeland Security Secretary. So, again, not much substantive talk on immigration, which there certainly is a need for.

BROWN: I'm just finding out some breaking news, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine just landing here in the United States. This is the first time he has left Ukraine since the war began 300 days ago. He's going to be meeting with President Biden at the White House, and then he'll be addressing Congress tonight. So, of course, we will be following all of that right here on CNN.


And just ahead, a funding fight on Capitol Hill as Congress rushes to pass a measure to fund the government or risk a shutdown.


BROWN: A Friday deadline looms for Congress to pass its massive and long awaited $1.7 trillion government funding bill. CNN's Jessica Dean joins us live from the Capitol Hill. Jessica?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, right now we are just waiting on timing. We still expect this bill to make its way through the Senate and then over to the House by this deadline. But right now, the situation is this, all 100 senators have to agree on how to proceed forward on voting on this legislation. And we know that some Senate Republicans want more amendment votes and that's the rub. They're trying to figure out exactly what the timing agreement is on that.

We heard from Senate Minority Whip John Thune just ago. He said it's looking less optimistic. They can get this done today and get it done before President Zelenskyy addresses Congress later this evening at 7:30. So this is either looking to be a very long night into the early morning hours for the Senate, or this will play out tomorrow. Of course, we've got this winter storm that's also bearing down on the middle of the country. A lot of senators very anxious to get home, get out of here until they get trapped. Just a reminder, Pamela, as we have Zelenskyy coming here tonight, there is $45 billion worth of Ukraine aid in this funding, again, a $1.7 billion bill that will fund the government for the next year.

BROWN: All right, thanks so much, Jessica Dean.


And up next, Twitter set for a shakeup. Elon Musk says he will resign a CEO, but not right away.


BROWN: Topping our Political Radar, disgraced FTX founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, could arrive in New York as soon as today, after he signed extradition papers this morning. And last hour, he appeared in a Bahamas courtroom as his lawyers negotiated with federal prosecutors on a bail arrangement that sources tell CNN could allow him to avoid detention. Bankman-Fried is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and conspiracy.


And Elon Musk says he will step down as Twitter CEO, tweeting that he will resign, quote, as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job. Musk had said he would abide by the results of a Twitter poll he created. Some 17 million users voted, and nearly 58 percent said he should quit.

Well, thanks for joining INSIDE POLITICS. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.