(Bloomberg) If Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns before November, it would be “disqualifying” to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s election bid, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 party nominee Mitt Romney said.
Trump “doesn’t expect to release his tax returns before November, citing an ongoing audit of his finances,” according to an Associated Press report. It said he indicated he will release them after the Internal Revenue Service completes the audit.
“There’s nothing to learn from them,” Trump said, according to the published report.
The billionaire businessman later sought to clarify his remarks, but not before Romney renewed his criticism of Trump’s fitness for the presidency.
Trump on Twitter
Trump said in a Twitter post Thursday afternoon: “In interview I told @AP that my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!” A campaign spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who supports Trump, told reporters Thursday that “if those audits are complete prior to Election Day, he’ll release his returns. If they’re not, he won’t.”
If Trump doesn’t release any returns before the Nov. 8 election, there’d be “an unprecedented level of secrecy surrounding his personal finances,” said tax historian Joseph Thorndike, the director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a trade publication.
Every major-party nominee “since Jimmy Carter has released at least a single return, and often quite a few more,” Thorndike said. Former President Gerald Ford released only a summary, not a full return, “but every candidate has done so since.”
Trump first said in February that he was being audited by the IRS, and wouldn’t release any returns until the audit is over. “For many years, I’ve been audited every year,” he said during a Feb. 25 Republican debate in Houston. “Twelve years or something like that.”
But IRS officials have said there’s no reason an individual can’t release his or her returns—even during an audit. Thorndike said there’s a precedent for doing so: President Richard Nixon disclosed his return while he was being audited in 1973.
“Nixon released his returns because he was under audit,” said Thorndike, a visiting scholar in history at the University of Virginia. “Presidential candidates don’t live by the same standards as everyone else—they agree to disclose a lot to voters. This is required by tradition. There’s no good explanation for him not to release his returns.”
Romney, who released two years’ worth of his tax returns during his 2012 presidential campaign, in March called Trump “a phony, a fraud,” and speculated that his tax returns must contain “a bombshell.” He repeated that theme on Thursday on Facebook, saying, “We can only assume it’s a bombshell of unusual size.”
Trump’s statements about whether he’d release tax returns have shifted over time. Last October, he said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would release his returns “when we find out the true story on Hillary’s e-mails.” The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of private e-mail during her term as secretary of state, but hasn’t set a deadline for the investigation.
In response to a question in October about his effective tax rate, Trump said: "I’m not going to say it, but at some point, I’m going to release it. But I pay as little as possible, I’m very proud to tell you.”
‘Very Big Returns’
Then in January, Trump said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he was preparing to release returns. “We’re working on that now,” he said. “I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time.”
Of the Democratic Party presidential candidates, Clinton, the front-runner, has posted returns from the past eight years on her website, and decades of returns for her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are available online. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, has released only his 2014 tax return.
Clinton said during a campaign event in New Jersey Thursday that she plans to make Trump’s tax returns an issue in the general-election campaign. Christie called it “ironic that Hillary Clinton is talking about transparency to anyone, given that she has her own e-mail server that she used constantly and had her colleagues in the State Department use in order to avoid” public-record requests.
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