Megan Butler

(CN) — The House Ways and Means Committee released former President Donald Trump’s tax returns Friday morning, the long-fought result of a campaign over three years in the making.

With Trump facing several other investigations, the release showing that he paid very little in income taxes over six years, four of which he served as president, is the latest strike at his struggling campaign to win presidency again in 2024.

House Democrats argued that Congress needed the tax returns — spanning from 2015 to 2020 — to evaluate whether there is a need for greater legislative oversight of financial activities conducted by presidents, particularly pertaining to the ability of the IRS to effectively audit presidential returns.

The Democrat-led panel released the financial documents for six years after voting 24-16 to do so last week, with little time left for action before Republicans formally take control of the House on Jan. 3. Addresses and certain other sensitive material have been redacted.

Some Republican lawmakers, such as Representative Kevin Brady from Texas, expressed concern that releasing Trump's returns publicly would give politicians the “power to embarrass, harass, or destroy Americans through disclosure of their tax returns."

Trump responded to the committee’s release by touting that the tax returns show how “successful” he’s been.

“The Democrats should have never done it, the Supreme Court should have never approved it, and it’s going to lead to horrible things for so many people,” he said in a statement.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the congressional committee to receive copies of six years of Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department, despite Trump's argument that the request was politically motivated.

Trump lost his case in the lower courts as well, most recently with the D.C. Circuit unanimously upholding the constitutionality of a committee’s request to examine a taxpayer’s return.

The Treasury Department had refused to provide the records during Trump’s presidency, but Representative Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, sought to obtain them after Democrats retook the majority in the House in 2019.

Trump is the only president in recent history to have refused to make his tax returns public during his campaign, breaking over four decades of a presidential candidate tradition in which they voluntarily do so.

When his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton confronted him about not paying income taxes during a 2016 presidential debate, Trump retorted, “that makes me smart,” and argued that if he did, the money would be “squandered.”

The former president has claimed for years that he was unable to release the documents while under a "routine audit" by the IRS, which was investigating his claimed 2010 income tax refund of $72.9 million. There are no restrictions preventing a taxpayer from releasing their returns while under audit.

A congressional report released by the committee earlier this month showed that Trump and his wife Melania reported negative income and little tax liability during multiple years throughout 2015 to 2020, and paid no federal income tax in 2020, his last full year in office.

The committee also found that the IRS did not conduct a mandatory audit of Trump’s returns during his first two years in office and never completed any audits while he served. The first audit began the same day that Neal sent a request for the information in April 2019.

Based on the committee’s findings, Neal has proposed new legislation that would expand presidential tax filing transparency by ensuring that the IRS conducts annual audits of presidents and publicly discloses certain information.

According to a separate report released by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which has been analyzing the tax forms, Trump used deductions to avoid paying taxes in some years, which should have been noted by the IRS. Trump reported massive business losses to offset his earnings and therefore reduce tax bills.

The committee members also said they noticed that in many filings of reported streams of income, the former president’s earnings and expenses matched exactly or there was no reported income at all, indicating that he may have improperly deducted money spent for personal purchases as business expenses.

The findings support those previously revealed by a New York Times article published in 2020, showing that Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018 by reporting millions more in losses than earnings for several of his properties –  all while the average tax filer paid roughly $12,200, about 16 times more than the reputed multibillionaire.

"The idea that somebody is making millions of dollars and can get away without paying their taxes by avoiding — in an unprecedented way — their tax liability, while single moms who are trying to take care of their kids are being audited, is absolutely unacceptable," said Representative Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California who also serves on the committee.

Trump’s real estate company, from which he accumulated much of his business growth, was found guilty just earlier this month on 17 counts of tax fraud after six weeks of trial.

Prosecutors said the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, subsidiaries of the Trump Organization, criminally avoided taxes and suppressed payroll costs in the company’s interest by compensating executives with undocumented and untaxed benefits, such as leases on luxury cars and apartments.

Trump called the verdict a “political witch hunt” and vowed to appeal but faces a $1.6 million maximum penalty if it is imposed during sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 13.

He also faces a $250 million lawsuit from Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, who claims to have had access to certain years of Trump’s federal income tax returns and accuses him, his eldest children and executives of the Trump Organization of manipulating property asset values to deceive lenders.

The biggest threat to Trump and his 2024 campaign, however, remains the investigations led by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed to oversee the Justice Department’s criminal probe of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election as well as possible mishandling of classified documents at his Florida estate.

Potential criminal indictments loom over the former president as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol referred four criminal charges to the Justice Department last week.

An Atlanta-area special grand jury investigating Trump and his allies' attempts to overturn Georgia’s election results is also expected to report their findings and possible criminal referrals soon after several months of testimony from subpoenaed witnesses.