WASHINGTON ― We don’t know whether Donald Trump paid any federal income taxes, or maybe we do, his campaign manager said Wednesday.
During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Kellyanne Conway simultaneously criticized The New York Times’ report that the GOP presidential nominee may not have paid such taxes for 18 years — because the paper didn’t prove he didn’t — asserted “we don’t know” whether he did, and then said he did.
“Number one, The New York Times said he may not have paid taxes for a number of years ― we don’t know,” Conway said. “Number two, in years that he did make a profit ― this being a very profitable man, obviously ― in years he did make a profit, of course he paid income tax like the rest of us do.”
Adding to the confusion, on Tuesday, Conway appeared to bolster the New York Times report by acknowledging that in 1995, Trump did indeed claim a loss, and carried that forward.
That same day, Eric Trump, the GOP nominee’s son, said his father, the Republican presidential nominee, has paid a “tremendous” amount of taxes.
Trump could clear all this up by releasing his tax returns, as has been the custom for White House contenders for decades, but he has refused to do so.
Conway’s comments reflect the central problem with Trump and his campaign’s stance on his taxes: They insist he pays income taxes, but won’t prove it, and use language that suggests he doesn’t pay income taxes but does pay other taxes. Conway and Eric Trump appeared at times to be referring to Donald Trump’s personal income taxes, and other times to taxes paid by businesses he controls.
“Donald Trump has paid hundreds of millions of taxes over a decade ― city, local and state taxes, federal payroll taxes, property taxes, real estate taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes,” Conway said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Eric Trump whether his father actually paid federal income taxes over the past 18 years. “Of course, yes, absolutely,” he said. “My father has paid a tremendous amount of tax. We as a company pay a tremendous amount of tax.”
As The Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller noted, the younger Trump took pains to emphasize that he was talking about his father’s company, so it’s unclear to what extent he was referring to his father paying taxes as an individual.
Voters who’d like to know for sure what all this means aren’t going to find out, unless Trump reverses course and opens his books.
Bizarrely, Conway also laid the blame for Trump not paying taxes ― if he, in fact, didn’t pay taxes ― at the feet of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party for not repealing the nearly century-old law that allows people like Trump to avoid income taxes.
“The tax provision that Donald Trump used in 1995 has been on the books since 1918, and if President Obama and his Democratically controlled House and Senate felt so passionately that it should be eliminated, why didn’t they make that a priority when they controlled Washington?” she said.
Trump has said he will not release his tax returns until the IRS finishes doing a routine audit, even though this action does not legally prevent him from releasing them. Democratic contender Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, have released their tax returns, as has Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
When the issue came up at the first presidential debate, Clinton accused Trump of not paying federal taxes. In response, he said, “that makes me smart.” Trump effectively bragged about using a tax framework that benefits the rich, allowing him to maintain a lavish lifestyle despite, in 1995, suffering what many Americans would consider a disastrous business loss.
As HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn reported, Trump’s income and corporate tax proposals are “a windfall for the wealthy,” including for members of the Trump family. And if he becomes president, “he could expect to see a big, fat tax cut on his desk within a week, or maybe sooner,” Cohn noted.
Bash asked Eric Trump on Tuesday whether his father’s tax returns will show that he has paid federal income taxes, if they are ever released. “There’s no question about it,” Trump said, noting later that he has personally seen them.
He reiterated that the public would not see them until the audit is complete.
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Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.