Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is the first candidate in 40 years who has refused to release his tax returns. At the presidential debate on Monday night, his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton suggested that may be because the public would see he didn’t pay any federal income taxes at all despite his self-professed wealth.
Trump seemed to admit that this was indeed the case. “That makes me smart,” he responded.
But just after the debate, Trump was already trying to walk it back. About an hour after he made the comment, he claimed he had never said it.
Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash, “It sounds like you admitted that you hadn’t paid federal taxes and that that was smart, is that what you meant to say?” Trump didn’t try to clarify, but instead lied and said he’d never said that.
“No, I didn’t say that at all,” he responded. He then went on, “If they say I didn’t, I mean it doesn’t matter,” without clarifying who “they” refers to.
But he did continue one theme: the idea that the government doesn’t deserve his tax money. “I will say this, I hate the way our government spends our taxes. Because they are wasting our money,” he said.
Taxes, of course, go to funding more than just “Iraq,” one of the wastes Trump pointed out on Monday night. They also help fund all government operations, from education to scientific research to Social Security to roads and bridges to things Trump supports like immigration enforcement. Ensuring that the wealthy pay more taxes than those who are less well off can also help tamp down on skyrocketing inequality.
If Trump has used the tax code to his advantage to get him out of paying federal income taxes, he wouldn’t be alone. In 2012, the 400 American taxpayers with the highest incomes paid an effective tax rate of just 17 percent, far lower than the on-paper 39.6 percent rate that’s supposed to be applied to income above $466,950. That’s thanks to their ability to marshal accountants and exploit loopholes like paying a lower rate on money made from investments — a rate Trump would make even lower.