The Slatest

Trump Won’t Release Tax Returns, Citing Audit That Conveniently Won’t Be Finished Before November

Trump in Washington on Saturday.*

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Donald Trump did an interview with the AP that has yielded a few different news nuggets for those of us who are paid to contemplate the horror of his campaign, including the candidate’s assertions that he won’t be investing much in get-out-the-vote/voter-targeting data research and that he’s looking closely at “five or six” potential vice presidential candidates including Chris Christie. The newly stated Trump position that’s most likely to make headlines going forward, though, is this one:

Despite pressure, the billionaire businessman also doesn’t expect to release his tax returns before November, citing an ongoing audit of his finances. He said he would release them after the audit ends.

“There’s nothing to learn from them,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. He also has said he doesn’t believe voters are interested.

(Here’s more on that audit, which is being done by the IRS; there’s no rule, as far as I’m aware, against releasing copies of your past tax returns while you’re being audited.)

Trump is probably right that most voters don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the question of whether politicians should release their 1040s. But all general-election presidential candidates generally end up releasing their tax returns, and there are a few reasons that journalists, other politicians, and actual human beings might be especially interested in Trump’s tax history specifically.

1. Trump’s tax returns could show that he pays some scandalously low effective tax rate. Because of the way investment income is taxed Mitt Romney only paid a 14 percent effective federal tax rate in 2011, which is probably less than you personally paid. Especially given that Trump has proposed huge tax cuts for rich people, it wouldn’t look great for him if it turned out he only paid like 5 percent in taxes.

2. Trump’s tax returns could further confirm that he gives an absurdly small amount of his own money (like, none of it) to charity. (His campaign has defended the tiny amount of money that the Trump Foundation has given to veterans’ groups by claiming that Trump makes veterans’ donations under his own name.) 

3. Trump’s tax returns could document support of liberal activism. He’s already known to have given to a number of Democratic politicians and says he might have donated to Planned Parenthood in the past. Individual donations to politicians are disclosed publicly, but donations to advocacy super PACs aren’t; Trump’s private tax return could reveal recent gifts to conservative-voter-alienating interest groups.

(Update, 1:20 p.m.: I’ve been reminded that there’s a fourth reason as well—Trump’s tax returns could indicate that he’s exaggerated how wealthy he is.)

Hillary Clinton is not exactly in good position to criticize anyone else in the universe for a lack of transparency, but you can expect that journalists from across the political spectrum will hound Trump about this going forward—and that the members of Trump’s own party who are skeptical of his candidacy and his conservative bona fides are probably pretty curious about it as well.

*Correction, May 11: This post’s photo caption originally stated in error that it depicted Trump at an event in Virginia; the photo was actually taken in Washington.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.