For months, Donald Trump has insisted that he would not release his tax returns while under audit ― a position seconded by tax lawyers, though one that the IRS has said is not necessary.
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, the presumptive Republican nominee continued to make the argument it was the IRS audit preventing him from disclosing the finite details of his personal finances ― from the tax breaks he took, to the charitable donations he’s made. But in a telling aside, Trump seemed to admit that he wasn’t disclosing his returns because of the political damage he feared they would inflict.
“Mitt Romney didn’t want to give his tax returns” in 2012, Trump said of the previous Republican presidential candidate. “He fought like crazy. Then [Sen.] Harry Reid lied, told a total lie in the Senate, a vicious lie that was untrue. And then Mitt Romney, very, very late, decided to give his tax returns. Now, remember this, I’m under audit. It’s a routine audit. Nobody would do that while they’re under audit and everybody understands that. But let me tell you, he gave those tax returns and they were absolutely fine. He was destroyed. They went through his returns, which were peanuts compared to what I have. You saw the stacks of paper. He gave his returns, and they found little items, little items in those returns that were nothing.”
Trump’s reference is to an episode in which Reid said he had heard from an investor at Bain Capital, Romney’s old private equity firm, that Romney had paid no taxes for 10 years. Romney denied the accusation and denounced Reid. He ended up producing 1.5 years of filings showing that he had paid a tax rate of roughly 14 percent ― in other words, extremely low. For that, Romney endured difficult headlines.
Presidential candidates don’t normally acknowledge that they are taking a position in order to avoid tough headlines. But that’s precisely what Trump seemed to be suggesting on Wednesday. Trump did give himself cover by continuing to insist that IRS audits are to blame for his failure to reveal his tax returns. But that seems even less legitimate now.
Ironically, Trump was among the choir of those urging Romney in 2012 to release his tax returns more quickly to get those headlines out of the way. Now, it’s Romney who is arguing that Trump is hiding some sort of shocking revelation in his own returns.
Trump said on Fox News that a revelation of his tax returns “could happen if the audit is finished.” If it doesn’t, he would become the first presidential candidate in modern history to never release his tax returns.
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