Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week’s presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. “Maybe,” she said, “he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were “gasps” in the room after the exchange. “That’s offensive. I pay taxes,” one said. “Another person would be in jail for that,” another voter added.

With Clinton eager to let voters know about Trump’s comments, the GOP nominee made yet another Fox News appearance last night, where Bill O’Reilly brought up the issue. From the transcript via Lexis Nexis:
O’REILLY: Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it’s going to be in the next debate, it’s going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No, I didn’t say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, “Well, that would make me very smart.” … I never said I didn’t pay taxes. She said maybe you didn’t pay taxes and I said, “Well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment.” But I think a lot of people say, “That’s the kind of thinking that I want running this nation.”
Perhaps now would be a good time to note that “That makes me smart” and “That would make me smart” are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn’t have the necessary resources for public needs. “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, “It would be squandered, too.”

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been “squandered,” Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton’s argument was correct: he hasn’t paid taxes.

What’s more, the Washington Post reported, “One big problem with Trump’s comments Wednesday is that there is a record of him paying no or very little income taxes. Of the five years for which we have a record of Trump’s taxes, he didn’t pay any or nearly any. So for Trump to suggest that he hasn’t avoided paying income taxes at some point is disingenuous, at best.”

Of course, Trump could clear up a lot of this by doing what every major-party presidential candidate has done for decades: release his tax returns. So far, he continues to refuse, for reasons that have failed to stand up to any scrutiny.

Donald Trump

Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?