- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Democrats on Wednesday kept the heat on Donald Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, charging that the New York billionaire must have something to hide and arguing that his reluctance to divulge the financial information should lead voters to question his honesty.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign surrogates have hammered away on the tax return issue for months, but the Republican presidential nominee hasn’t budged. He maintains that he is under audit and therefore can’t release the documents.

Analysts say nothing prohibits Mr. Trump from releasing at least some of the information but stress that Democrats are unlikely to gain much traction with their continued focus on the matter.

But as part of a broader effort to portray Mr. Trump as secretive and untrustworthy, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign made clear again Wednesday that it would keep the tax return issue front and center until Election Day.

Trump doesn’t really have a plan. What he says is, ‘Believe me,’” Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said at a campaign rally in North Carolina. “Does anybody in this room believe Donald Trump? Does anybody in this room think there’s something funny in those tax returns?”

Mr. Kaine made the comments two days after a key Clinton surrogate, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, challenged Mr. Trump to make his returns public. Mr. Buffett even went a step further, offering to hold a press conference with Mr. Trump and allowing reporters to ask both wealthy men unlimited questions about their personal finances.

Mr. Trump hasn’t responded to the offer.

“I’d like to make him an offer, an offer I hope he can’t refuse,” Mr. Buffett said at a really this week in Omaha, Nebraska. “He said it several times that he can’t release it because he’s under audit. I’ve got news for him: I’m under audit, too, and I’d be delighted to meet him anyplace, anytime, between now and election, and I’ll bring my tax return, he can bring his tax return. Nobody is going to arrest us. There are no rules against showing your tax returns and just let people ask us questions about the items that are on there.”

Others have taken note of Mr. Buffett’s challenge to Mr. Trump. Liberty Tax CEO John Hewitt offered Wednesday moderate the theoretical debate and said he would donate $1 million to a charity of their choice if they participate.

“I am ready to help the American public understand what’s in each businessman’s tax return,” Mr. Hewitt said in a statement. “I have been in the business long enough to understand the complexity of a tax return and the significance of what the numbers mean, and I can explain that in terms that anyone could understand.”

Although Mr. Trump has released his personal financial disclosure forms — which show a net worth of over $10 billion — he says he is under IRS audit and can’t produce the information. For decades, presidential candidates have routinely released their income tax returns.

“My tax returns are very simple. They’re under a minor audit, routine audit, as they have been for many years,” Mr. Trump told ABC News this week. “When I’m finished with the audit, I’ll do it.”

Analysts say Mr. Trump likely could release past tax returns that are no longer under IRS audit, though they stress that Mr. Trump is under no obligation to make the information public for the sake of common practice.

“This just may not be the bombshell everybody is expecting,” said Thomas B. Cooke, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “I’m expecting to see a tax return rather similar to the returns released by [2012 Republican presidential candidate] Mitt Romney — an individual of great wealth and an individual with legitimate deductions, and an individual who had a lower effective tax rate” than many other Americans.

But in the end, Mr. Cooke said, constant focus on Mr. Trump’s tax returns likely won’t produce much of a tangible political benefit for Democrats.

“I think the average individual couldn’t care less,” he said.

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