Vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine and Mike Pence engaged in a heated back-and-forth over Donald Trump’s tax returns during Tuesday’s vice presidential debate.
A question was posed by moderator Elaine Quijano on Trump’s recent claim that he “brilliantly” used the US tax code to pay as little tax as legally possible.
Trump made the statement after a Saturday New York Times story revealed three pages from his 1995 tax returns. The records showed he claimed a $916 million loss, which tax experts said may have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years.
Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, insisting he will do so once a routine audit is completed by the Internal Revenue Service, which he’s previously said may or may not be completed ahead of the election. Every major party presidential nominee has released their tax returns since the 1976 election.
“I want to hear whether he will defend his running mate not releasing taxes,” said Kaine, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
Pence, Trump’s running mate, responded by saying the Times report showed he “faced pretty tough times 20 years ago” and used the tax code “just the way is was supposed to be used.”
Kaine doubled down on asking why Trump wouldn’t release the returns.
“He went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just the way it was supposed to be used,” Pence said.
“How do you know that?” Kaine shot back.
Pence said it was because he created a billion-dollar business.
“How do you know that?” Kaine shot back again, later adding that Trump promised he’d release his returns earlier in the campaign and then mentioning Trump’s comment from the first debate that not paying federal taxes “makes me smart.”
“Is it smart not to be [paying] for our military, for veterans, for teachers?” he continued, later adding, “I guess all of us who do pay for those things, I guess we’re stupid.”
Kaine pointed out that Pence had to show his returns to Trump in order to prove he was qualified to be his running mate. Pence released 10 years of his tax returns publicly last month.
“Donald Trump must if the American public his tax return to show he is qualified to be president,” He said. “He is breaking his promise.”
Pence pointed to Trump’s lengthy financial disclosure release, saying that it was what was legally required. He also said Trump would eventually release his returns, and asked Kaine if he didn’t take all of the tax deductions available to him.
“Richard Nixon released his tax returns under audit,” Kaine said. “If you can’t meet Nixon’s standard…”
Nixon’s taxes, however, were not released until after the 1972 election.
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