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Trump says he can’t release tax returns because of audits

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HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media in the spin room after the Republican National Committee Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music Opera House on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The candidates are meeting for the last Republican debate before the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Donald Trump says he wants to release his tax returns but can’t because he is being audited by the IRS.

“I’m being audited now for two or three years, so I can’t do it [release returns] until the audit is finished, obviously. And I think people would understand that,” Trump said during CNN’s Republican debate.

An audit by itself would not prevent Trump from releasing his tax returns, said David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer prize winning tax author. It is up to an individual whether to disclose his or her tax return to the public, a lender or anyone else who wants to see it.

Audits are rare. Overall, fewer than 1% of all individual returns are audited. The IRS says it expects to conduct 1.2 million individual audits this year, the lowest level in 11 years.

Federal law prohibits the government from releasing an individual’s tax return, but most candidates do so on their own. The first presidential candidate to release his tax returns was George Romney, the father of Mitt Romney, when he was running for president in 1967.

Trump’s taxes became an issue this week when former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said primary voters are right to be concerned there is a “bombshell” hiding in Trump’s returns.

Romney said Trump is either not as wealthy as he claims, hasn’t paid the kind of taxes voters would expect him to pay, or hasn’t been giving the money to veterans or disabled people as he has said he has.

After the debate Romney tweeted that the audits shouldn’t stop Trump from disclosing his returns. Romney said that if Trump wants to wait until the audit is complete he could at least release his earlier returns. He again charged there are bombshells that Trump is hiding.

Trump said he has filed financial statements showing that he is worth more than $10 billion, and that voters can find out more about his finances from those statements than they can from tax returns.

During the debate, Sen. Marco Rubio said he would be releasing his returns either Friday or Saturday, while Sen. Ted Cruz said he has already released five years of returns and would release two more years on Friday.

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