In an interview with the Associated Press, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump revealed that he will not release any of his tax returns before election day.
Previously, Trump blamed an ongoing audit for his failure to release returns, an excuse that was questioned by tax experts. As recently as Sunday, Trump pledged to release the returns “as fast as the auditors finish.” Last October, Trump said he would release his tax returns once Hillary Clinton released her emails. Now, Trump adds that he’s not planning to release them because “there’s nothing to learn from them” and voters aren’t interested in the information.
The announcement is a sharp break from historical precedent. Although the number of years for which they’ve released tax returns vary, every party nominee since 1976 has released some. Fifteen years of Hillary Clinton’s tax returns are available online.
Signing a recent tax return- isn't this ridiculous? pic.twitter.com/UdwqF4iZIZ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2016
It’s also a sharp break from Trump’s own advice to Mitt Romney. In January 2012, Trump told Greta Van Sustren that Romney “was hurt really very badly” by his initial refusal to release his tax returns. He advised Romney to “release them now.”
Romney released his 2010 return and a summary of his 2011 return later that month. After Romney released his full 2011 tax return in September, Trump praised Romney for releasing his returns and said they were “very honorably done.” Although Trump now claims no one is interested in reviewing tax returns, he said he personally reviewed Romney’s, calling them “absolutely beautiful and perfect.”
He then advised Romney to offer to release more years of tax returns in exchange for Obama’s college transcripts and passport records.
What’s driving Trump’s reluctance to release his returns? One possibility is that the underlying rationale for Trump’s candidacy is that he’s a highly successful businessman and he will make “great deals” for America. As proof, Trump mostly relies on a single page report listing his assets that he claims proves he’s worth over $10 billion.
That document, however, is easily manipulated because it relies on Trump assigning values to nebulous assets — including his own “brand” at over $3 billion. (A subsequent financial disclosure Trump filed with the FEC only lists broad ranges of values for assets.)
Tax returns, however, are not as easily manipulated. They could show that Trump is much less wealthy than he claims. One imagines that if Trump’s returns validated his business success he’d be eager to release them.
Or he could have something else to hide. We may never know.