In 90 minutes, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were able to cover a lot of ground. From the economy to racism to Iraq to criminal justice, the candidates sparred on the stage for the first time.
But the lasting impact of the debate come from a few moments that persist in the public consciousness long after most of the debate is forgotten.
In Tuesday night’s debate, that moment came during a discussion of Trump’s tax returns. Trump is the first candidate in 40 years who refuses to release his returns.
Clinton suggested that Trump wasn’t releasing them because the returns would show he paid no taxes at all. Clinton noted a couple of older returns from the 1980s, that were disclosed through casino regulators, showed he paid no taxes.
“That makes me smart,” Trump replied.
Notably, Trump doesn’t deny that his returns would show he paid little or no federal taxes.
He appears to brag about it.
Clinton seized the moment. “So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health. And I think probably he’s not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide,” she said.
The exchange will likely increase the pressure for Trump to release his taxes or, at a minimum, the tax rate he paid each year.
Trump is now on the record stating that paying no income tax makes him “smart.” This would suggest that, if he released his taxes, it would reveal that Trump has paid little to nothing.
Thus far, Trump has been able to avoid a sustained discussion of his tax returns.
His luck may have just run out.
Here’s the full transcript:
CLINTON: Well, I think you’ve seen another example of bait-and- switch here. For 40 years, everyone running for president has released their tax returns. You can go and see nearly, I think, 39, 40 years of our tax returns, but everyone has done it. We know the IRS has made clear there is no prohibition on releasing it when you’re under audit.
So you’ve got to ask yourself, why won’t he release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be.
CLINTON: Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.
TRUMP: That makes me smart.
CLINTON: So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health. And I think probably he’s not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide.
And the financial disclosure statements, they don’t give you the tax rate. They don’t give you all the details that tax returns would. And it just seems to me that this is something that the American people deserve to see. And I have no reason to believe that he’s ever going to release his tax returns, because there’s something he’s hiding.
And we’ll guess. We’ll keep guessing at what it might be that he’s hiding. But I think the question is, were he ever to get near the White House, what would be those conflicts? Who does he owe money to? Well, he owes you the answers to that, and he should provide them.