Hillary Clinton suggested during tonight’s US presidential debate that Donald Trump hasn’t released his federal income tax returns at least partly because he hasn’t paid federal taxes.
The assertion kicked off a round of sparring. The Republican candidate released returns in 1981 when he applied for a New Jersey casino license. “They showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax,” Clinton noted.
“That makes me smart,” Trump interjected.
“He paid zero,” Clinton added. ”That means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health.” Clinton returned to the allegation a short while later, during a discussion about the nation’s finances: “And maybe it’s because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years….”
Trump interjected again, saying, “It would be squandered, too, believe me.”
Trump’s satisfaction at having avoided paying federal taxes is a striking departure from candidates’ traditional positioning. Republican candidate Mitt Romney disclosed during the 2012 campaign that he paid on average 14% of his adjusted gross income—which at the time helped fuel rivals’ claims that he wasn’t paying his fair share.
Trump also was unapologetic during the debate about the bankruptcy filings of several of his companies. “On occasion, four times, we used certain laws that are there.”
He turned to his Democratic opponent, telling Clinton, “Now, if you want to change the laws, you’ve been there a long time, change the laws.” Trump continued, “But I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company. My obligation right now is to do well for myself, my family, my employees, for my companies. And that’s what I do.”
Speaking to reporters immediately following the debate, Trump appeared to backtrack on his comment about being smart for not paying taxes.
Asked again after the debate about whether he paid federal taxes, Trump replied, “Of course I pay federal taxes.”