Donald Trump loves to brag about how rich he is. One question swirling through the US presidential campaign now is this: Has he managed to avoid paying income taxes?
Trump, a billionaire who steadfastly refuses to release his tax returns -- a four-decade tradition among candidates for the White House -- raised eyebrows with an odd remark during Monday’s debate with Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, the Democrat, offered several hypotheses as to why Trump, the Republican, might be declining to make that information public: Maybe he is not as rich or as charitable as he makes himself out to be.
Or, she mused, “maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”
With an estimated 84 million people watching the debate, Trump quickly interjected, “that makes me smart.”
A few minutes earlier he had said he filed a financial disclosure statement with the Federal Election Commission in which he reported $694 million in revenue last year.
Filing such forms is mandatory for presidential hopefuls, but they are less detailed than a full-blown tax return.
After the debate Trump seemed to backtrack as he told reporters “of course I pay federal taxes.”
“I hate the way our government spends our money,” he added. “They throw it out of the window.”
For months the Democrats have been demanding that Trump release his tax returns, as Clinton and her husband Bill have done for years.
So the Democrats pounced on Trump’s comment about being smart when it comes to paying -- or not paying -- Uncle Sam.
First Lady Michelle Obama questioned the Republican candidate’s character while campaigning for Clinton at La Salle University in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“If a candidate thinks that not paying taxes makes you smart,” she said, “sadly that’s who that candidate really is.”
At Philadelphia’s Drexel University the day before vice-president Joe Biden took a similar line of attack: “he acknowledged that he didn’t pay taxes... because he’s smart.”
“Tell that to your mothers and fathers who are breaking their neck to send you here. They’re paying taxes,” Biden said. “It angers me. It angers me.”
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 75% of Americans want Trump to come clean on his taxes -- 60% among Republicans, 92% among Democrats.
Trump argues that he does not release the data because he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. But the IRS says being under audit does not mean someone cannot release their returns.
Trump’s son Donald Jr says the document is 12,000 pages long.
Some experts say Trump has probably used every possible tax break available to real estate developers like him.