No I won't. Yes I will.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Trump's Tax Dodge

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Donald Trump, who has called one opponent "Lyin' Ted" and another "Crooked Hillary," has gotten away with more falsehoods and fabrications than any politician in memory. He's at it again.

The subject is his tax returns. First he said he'd release them, as every Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominee has done since 1980. Then this week he told the Associated Press he probably wouldn't, at least not before an Internal Revenue Service audit was complete (which may or may not be before the November election). Then on Wednesday night, he told Fox News that he'd release them after all, but didn't say when.

Get serious, Donald.

An IRS audit wouldn't prevent him from releasing his returns; certainly he could release earlier years.

Until he does, people have a right to conclude that the real reason for his reticence is that he doesn't want voters to know what the documents might reveal. That he's not as rich as he says he is? That he's used legal loopholes to shrink his tax bill? That he's stingy when it comes to charity?

Trump seems to figure that he can get away with saying whatever he wants, truth be damned. He said he saw thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey after the 9/11 terrorist acts -- a scene no one else saw. He claims that he warned that the U.S. "better take out" Osama bin Laden before the World Trade Center attacks -- he never did. He charges that President Barack Obama "is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away" -- a fabrication.

Then there was his first big national splash: the absurd allegation that Obama, the country's first African-American president, wasn't born in the U.S. He also knows that Hillary Clinton, his presumptive opponent this fall, cannot effectively make the transparency case against him as long as she refuses to release the text of speeches she has delivered to Wall Street bankers and for which she was lavishly compensated. 

Others shouldn't be inhibited. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, got the ball rolling the other day when he charged it was "disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service." Romney, who only released his own returns under pressure four years ago, speculated that there's a "bombshell" in Trump's tax submissions.

For his part, Trump claims "there's nothing to be learned" from his tax returns. My Bloomberg View colleague Tim O'Brien, who reviewed Trump's tax returns about a decade ago in the course of a legal dispute, begs to differ. The evidence is on his side.

  • A tax return doesn't reveal one's net worth but it can offer strong clues. If Trump is worth the $10 billion he claims, his return would probably show a nine-figure income. A Bloomberg news article last summer put Trump's net worth at $2.9 billion. Other estimates vary, but few approach that $10 billion figure. Trump brushes aside doubters without providing proof.
  • All tax returns show whether a taxpayer takes advantage of loopholes. Part of Trump's wealth comes from real estate, which offers lots of legal tax-avoidance techniques. The return would also show whether he used offshore shelters, which are legal but politically toxic. That was one of the revelations highlighted in Romney's returns when he released them during his presidential run.
  • The returns would provide a road map of how Trump would fare under his own tax-cut proposal, which favors the wealthy.
  • Charitable gifts are tax-deductible so they'd appear on a Trump return if there are any. He has said he donates the use of his golf courses to causes he supports. If so, and if he deducted the value of those golfing rounds, it would show up on his return. But Trump is not known as big philanthropist.

There's a simple way for Trump to halt speculation about his motives: follow the 23 modern-day candidates, from Ronald Reagan through Sarah Palin to Barack Obama, and set those returns free.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net