Ever since starting his transition from “reality-TV businessman” to “maybe-politician and presidential candidate,” Donald Trump has been the first and so-far only presidential candidate since the Nixon era to refuse to release his tax returns.
More specifically, Trump has not outright refused to release his returns, but always said he was waiting for something else to happen before he would release them. In an interview with The Economist published on May 11, Trump said that “maybe” he’d release his tax returns after he leaves the White House:
ECONOMIST: Mr President, can I just try you on a deal-making question? If you do need Democratic support for your tax plan, your ideal tax plan, and the price of that the Democrats say is for you to release your tax returns, would you do that?
TRUMP: I don’t know. That’s a very interesting question. I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they’re not going to…nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.
HOPE HICKS [White House director of strategic communication]: Once the audit is over.
TRUMP: I might release them after I’m out of office.
Trump’s history of promising to “maybe” release his tax returns once certain conditions are met dates back to 2011, when he first floated the idea of running for president. That year, Trump was still riding the “birther” bandwagon, falsely claiming that then-President Obama wasn’t qualified to be president at all because he had not been born in the United States. The video at the top of this page shows an interview he gave to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, saying that “maybe” he’d release his tax returns if Obama released his birth certificate first.
“Maybe I’m going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate,” Trump said. “I may tie my tax returns, I’d love to give my tax returns, I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate.”
He also said “If I run [for office] … I’ll do a full disclosure of finances.”
In January 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for president against then-incumbent Obama, Trump had an interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, suggesting that Mitt Romney might have hurt himself in the polls by being too slow to release his tax returns: “I think Mitt was hurt really very badly by this whole thing with the income tax returns. I believe he should have given them April 1, but I didn’t think going into a little bit of detail without going into a lot of detail was positive thing.”
In September 2016 Trump went even further, saying that Romney lost the 2012 election because of his tax returns: “He waited ’til September to give ’em, just before the election. They made him look so bad. It was so unfair.”
By 2014, Obama’s birth certificate had long-since been released with no corresponding release of Trump’s tax returns. That year, Trump gave an interview to Irish journalist Colette Fitzpatrick saying he’d release his tax returns if he decided to run for president.
“If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that,” he said in the video interview embedded below.
By October 2015 Trump had changed his mind again, telling George Stephanopoulos that he might release his tax returns if Hillary Clinton told the “true story” about her emails:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Getting any closer to releasing your tax returns?
TRUMP: Well, I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about maybe when we find out the true story on Hillary’s emails — you know, I’ve been saying that for a while, let’s find out the true stories…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, that’s been your line, but she’s been putting some out.
TRUMP: But you know what? I’m very honest with my tax returns. (INAUDIBLE)…
Early in 2016, Trump first introduced the “tax audit” excuse he stuck with for the rest of his presidential campaign: he would not yet release his tax returns because the IRS was auditing him.
Mitt Romney dismissed this excuse in a May 2016 Facebook post which said in part that: “It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service. Tax returns provide the public with its sole confirmation of the veracity of a candidate’s representations regarding charities, priorities, wealth, tax conformance, and conflicts of interest. … Mr. Trump says he is being audited. So? There is nothing that prevents releasing tax returns that are being audited. Further, he could release returns for the years immediately prior to the years under audit. There is only one logical explanation for Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his returns: there is a bombshell in them. Given Mr. Trump’s equanimity with other flaws in his history, we can only assume it’s a bombshell of unusual size.”
Then, in January 2017, President-Elect Trump said he might never release his tax returns because he’d managed to win the election without doing so, and at any rate “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters.”