Did Donald Trump just admit he hasn’t paid income taxes?
The moment came in Monday night’s presidential debate when Trump was discussing the need for infrastructure improvements.
“Our country has tremendous problems,” the Republican candidate said. “We're a debtor nation, we're a serious debtor nation, and we have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals. And we don't have the money, because it's been squandered on so many of your ideas.”
Hillary Clinton interrupted: “And maybe because you haven't paid any federal income tax for a lot of years. And the other thing I think would be important …”
It’s what came next that’s extraordinary. Trump said:
“It would be squandered too, believe me.”
Would be squandered. Had Trump just admitted he doesn’t pay a penny in taxes? It sure sounded that way.
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton didn’t hear it. She went on to attack him—quite accurately—for his shoddy business practices, including stiffing the people who helped him like “dishwashers, painters, architects, glass installers, marble installers, drapery installers.” All true!
But she missed the bigger point: Trump claims he cannot release his taxes because he is under audit by Internal Revenue Service. This is hooey. Instead, he’s left commentators—and Clinton, who also offered some other theories about Trump's tax return on Monday—to wonder whether the real reason the Donald won’t let the public review his filings is because he doesn’t want us to see how little he’s paying. Perhaps because he’s not paying anything at all.
Trump just gave those critics a lot of ammunition, even if Clinton didn’t seem to realize it on stage.
Did Trump just answer his charge that he didn't pay income taxes by saying "it would be squandered anyway?"— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) September 27, 2016
When Clinton speculates that Trump did not pay anything in taxes, he suggests rationale for not paying: "it would have been squandered too."— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) September 27, 2016
I think Trump just admitted that he hasn't paid any taxes when he said "It would be squandered, too." Would. Not has. #Debate2016— Alexis Goldstein (@alexisgoldstein) September 27, 2016
Trump says if he paid taxes, “it would be squandered.” No, it would pay for roads, water, the military, the court system you use so much.— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) September 27, 2016
Update, Sept. 27, 2016, at 12:07 a.m.: Asked on CNN after the debate whether he had meant it when he “admitted that you hadn’t paid federal taxes and that that was smart"—referring to a jarring Trump retort a moment before the "would be squandered" line—Trump replied that he “didn’t say that at all.”