In October 2012, just days ahead of the last presidential election, Donald Trump published a tweet directed at President Obama. “Why does Obama believe he shouldn’t comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition?” the Republican complained. “Hiding something?”
Four years later, Trump happens to be facing extremely similar questions. Every major-party presidential nominee since Watergate has, of their own volition, voluntarily released their tax returns for public scrutiny. Trump, however, is refusing – despite having said he would release his returns, despite the precedent set by others, and despite the obvious need given multiple ongoing controversies.
Last night, as TPM noted, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren pressed Trump on the matter, and he continued to say he wouldn’t disclose the materials.
Van Susteren pressed Trump, asking why he is unwilling to release tax returns that are no longer under audit, even if he still refuses to publicize his most recent documents.“Most people don’t care about it,” Trump responded. “I’ve had very, very little pressure.”
The GOP nominee may not appreciate this, but when a presidential candidate is hiding something, and brags that he’s received “very little pressure,” he’s effectively inviting additional pressure.
In the same interview, Trump added, “I remember with Mitt Romney four years ago, everybody wanted his, and his is a peanut compared to mine. It’s like a peanut. It’s very small…. Now, they finally got it in September. He decided to give it. And they found a couple of little minor things. Little things that didn’t mean anything…. They found a little sentence and they made such a big deal. He might have lost the election over that.”
It’s not clear what “little sentence” Trump is referring to from Romney’s tax returns, but Trump nevertheless believes Romney’s disclosure cost him politically – which apparently is contributing to Trump’s insistence on secrecy.
Note, however, the broader shift in explanations.
For months, Trump and his campaign have said secrecy was required because of an IRS audit. The defense never made any sense – others, including Richard Nixon, released their returns to the public despite an audit – and now Trump is shifting his posture, arguing that there may be information in his tax documents that would hurt his candidacy.
That may be true, but it’s a terrible defense. It’s inherently problematic when a candidate for the nation’s highest office effectively says, “I could honor norms and share my background with the public, but then I might lose, so I’m choosing secrecy instead.”
Trump’s tax returns could shed light on whether he’s lying about his wealth, whether he actually paid income taxes at all, the extent of his Russian ties, and even his controversial charitable record. These questions aren’t going away, and based on Trump’s rhetoric last night, they should probably start getting louder.