Billionaire Donald Trump insisted Thursday that he couldn’t release his tax returns now because he is under a “very routine audit” by the Internal Revenue Service, and said he’s been audited constantly over the past 12 years.

Trump also suggested in an interview with CNN after the presidential debate in Houston, Texas, that he's being audited so frequently because he is a "strong Christian," but later toned down that assertion to say he wasn't totally sure why he was being singled out, while sticking by his decision not to make his returns public.

“I’m not going to release them in the middle of an audit. No one would do that,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper following the debate. “Only a fool would release in the midst of an audit.”

Trump said he will “absolutely” release his tax documents, but must wait until IRS audits for two or three years of returns are completed. He said he could not guarantee that would happen before the general election in November because he doesn't know how long it will take.

Trump's presidential rival Marco Rubio put the issue of releasing tax returns into the presidential contest this week, saying he would release his returns as early as this weekend. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, joined the fray, tweeting that there’s no reason Trump can’t release his returns and noting that Romney himself did so in January 2012, the year he was nominated.

“No legit reason @realDonaldTrump can’t release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns no longer under audit,” Romney wrote in a tweet.

Romney on Wednesday criticized Trump for not releasing tax information, saying that a “bombshell’ may be lurking in Trump’s tax returns, while providing no evidence of what that might be.

“We have good reason to believe that there’s a bombshell in Donald Trump’s taxes,” Romney said in Fox News interview. “I think there is something there.”

“Either he is not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or the disabled like he has been telling us he’s been doing.”

During the debate, Rubio called on Trump to release his tax returns as part of a barrage of questions about Trump’s inherited wealth and his use of foreign workers on his resort project in Florida.

“Here's a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn't inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?” Rubio said. “Selling watches in Manhattan.”

“That is so wrong. We'll work on that. I took $1 million and I turned into $10 billion,” Trump said.

“Better release your tax returns so we can see how much money he made,” Rubio said.

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