A Timeline Of Trump’s Debate Night Waffling On Paying Taxes

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Among the theories Hillary Clinton put forward at Monday’s debate as to why Donald Trump was resisting releasing his tax returns was the possibility that in some years he paid no federal income taxes. Trump, in his response to the claims, did little to put that notion to rest. At first, from the debate stage, he bragged when she made the claim and later he seemed to concede her allegation by saying his taxes would have been squandered by a spendthrift government had he paid them.

In the spin room after, he waffled even more when reporters asked him what he meant. On one hand, he said he hadn’t, in fact, admitted to not paying federal income taxes. However, presented with multiple opportunities to say definitively that he has and is paying income taxes, he appeared to dodge the questions. Only once did he say he had paid federal taxes.

Here’s a timeline of his responses:

9:35 p.m.: “That makes me smart.”

Clinton first brought up the claim fairly early in the debate, by pointing to some tax returns of his that have been made public showing no federal income taxes being paid.

“That makes me smart,” he interjected, proudly, rather than denying outright the assertion.

9:39 p.m.: “It would be squandered, too, believe me.”

Clinton reiterated the allegation, as Trump complained that the sad state of the country was because taxpayer money had been “squandered.”

“And maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” she charged.

“It would be squandered, too, believe me,” Trump said.

10:52 p.m.: “If they say I didn’t, it doesn’t matter.”

CNN’S Dana Bash found Trump in the spin room, and asked him if he meant it when it sounded like he admitted he hadn’t paid federal taxes and that it was smart.

Trump denied that’s what he meant, but evaded the central question of whether he paid federal income taxes every year.

“No, I didn’t say that at all. I mean, if they say I didn’t, it doesn’t matter,” Trump said. “I will say this, I hate the way our government spends our taxes. Because they are wasting our money. They don’t know what they’re doing, they’re running it so poorly, whether it’s spent in Iraq or wherever they’re spending it, they are wasting our money. So, I do hate the way our government spends.”

11:10 p.m.: “Of course I have paid federal taxes.”

When CBS News’ Major Garrett asked Trump if he “paid some federal taxes over the years,” Trump dodged again.

“I said I hate the way our government spends our money,” Trump said. “Our government takes our money and throws it out the window, whether it’s in the Middle East or wherever. But I hate the way our government spends our money.”

Garrett followed up one more time — “You have paid federal taxes?” — and Trump finally gave some confirmation.

“Of course I have paid federal taxes,” Trump said.

11:52 p.m.: Trump dodges when asked if he pays federal income taxes now.

Later in the spin room, Trump repeated his promise that he would release his tax returns after an alleged IRS audit was completed.

NBC News’ Katy Tur asked him, “Do you pay federal income tax now?”

Trump didn’t answer the question, and repeated his line about releasing his returns after the audit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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