WASHINGTON — Donald Trump and his campaign have given a variety of reasons for refusing to release the candidate’s tax returns. Now they have two new ones: the tax filings are too voluminous for voters to digest, and the files would distract attention from his campaign message.
The billionaire mogul’s eldest son acknowledged in an interview published Thursday that his father did not want the scrutiny that would come with releasing his federal income tax returns — something every presidential nominee for decades has done.
Thus, he said, it was unlikely any Trump returns would be released during the election — contrary to the candidate’s earlier promise to release his taxes when an IRS audit is complete. Hillary Clinton has already released her full returns dating back to 1977.
Trump has “a 12,000-page tax return that would create probably 300 million independent financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that are going to distract from his main message,” Donald Trump Jr. told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“You’re just allowing everyone to be an independent auditor,” he added. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
There is a long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their taxes, with almost every candidate since the 1970s releasing full returns. And there are some signs that Republicans are growing impatient with Trump’s refusal.
House Speaker Paul Ryan pressured Trump Thursday by saying the Republican nominee should release his taxes, just as Ryan did when he was the 2012 vice presidential nominee.
“I released mine,” Ryan said. “I think we should release ours. I’ll leave it to him when to do it.”
Trump for years has broken multiple promises to release his tax returns, and the issue flared again this week as part of a debate over transparency relating to medical records.
Trump on Thursday touted his fitness by bragging about his golf game and citing his testosterone levels. His campaign released a one-page doctor’s letter that said he is in overall good health, despite being somewhat overweight.
Clinton, who released her generally positive physicians assessment on Wednesday, returned to the campaign trail Thursday after she spent several days recuperating at home from pneumonia. She sought to regain her footing after one of her most negative campaign stretches by changing the subject from her medical history to Trump’s taxes, business dealings, and lack of disclosure.
“Until Trump discloses his foreign business ties, divests from the Trump Organization, and releases his tax returns, there should be serious concern about who a President Trump would serve: the American people, or Trump’s bank account,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
The Clinton campaign created a new website called “Full Disclosure: Comparing the Two Candidates.”
Further complicating things for the Trump campaign, his running mate, Mike Pence, last week released 10 years of his tax returns.
When asked Thursday when Trump would release his taxes — and to respond to his son’s comments — campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks responded with one sentence: “Mr. Trump is undergoing a routine audit.”
One reason Trump may be keeping his returns under wraps may be that he pays very little, taking advantage of many tax breaks offered to real estate developers. Records from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Control and the Casino Control Commission have shown that Trump paid little to nothing in federal taxes in 1978 and 1979, as well as 1991 and 1993.
“I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible,” Trump told ABC News in May.
When he was pressed about what his tax rate was, he said, “It’s none of your business. You’ll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”
Trump’s tax returns would also answer several of the lingering questions about his wealth, including potential financial entanglements he has with countries he would be negotiating with as president. It would also provide indications of his net worth, as well as his charitable donations.
Running mate Pence said earlier this week that Trump has donated “tens of millions of dollars to charity,” but his campaign has not provided proof of such donations. The Washington Post reported that Trump himself has not donated to his family foundation since 2008.
Senate Democrats on Thursday tried to move a bill that would require all major party candidates to release their taxes, but it was blocked by Republicans.
Over the months, Trump has given various responses on why he won’t release his tax returns.
He has said that he is under audit from the IRS — but that does not restrict him from releasing them. President Richard M. Nixon released his tax returns while under audit in 1973.
In addition to saying it was “none of your business,’’ Trump has said that voters don’t care about his tax returns, and that there’s “nothing to learn from them.”
In 2011, as Trump was a leading voice in the “birther’’ movement, he pledged to make his returns public if President Obama released his long-form birth certificate. Obama did. Trump didn’t.
In 2014, he said he would “absolutely” release them if he ran for office. In 2015, he said he would release them when “we find out the true story on Hillary’s e-mails.”
As the excuses have piled up, numerous Republicans — chief among them Mitt Romney, whose own campaign was dogged by his reluctance to release his tax returns before he provided two years worth — have ridiculed Trump for not providing the information.
Trump this week has been more comfortable talking about his health rather than his taxes. On the “Dr. Oz Show,” which aired Thursday after a Wednesday taping, Trump, 70, released a one-page summary from Harold N. Bornstein, his longtime physician, pronouncing him in “excellent physical health.”
The latest note said that he was 6-foot-3 and weighed 236 pounds, which makes him technically overweight but not obese. He had cholesterol and blood pressure in normal ranges. He uses a drug that lowers cholesterol and has been hospitalized only once in his life, for an appendectomy when he was 11 years old.
Clinton released a two-page medical summary from her personal physician on Wednesday that also provided details about her health and said she is medically fit to serve in the White House. It said she suffers from a treatable thyroid disorder and takes blood-thinner medication to prevent clotting.
On the Oz show, Trump talked about golfing as exercise, as well as his campaign rallies in which he moves his arms around with gusto.
“A lot of times these rooms are very hot, like saunas, and I guess that is a form of exercise and, you know?” he said.
Trump also confessed to having a diet of fast food, and admitted he could shed some pounds.
“I think I could lose a little weight. I’ve always been a little bit this way — you know?” he said. “If I had one thing, I’d like to lose weight. It’s tough because of the way I live. But the one thing I would like to do is be able to drop 15, 20 pounds.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.