Last night in the first presidential debate, Donald Trump proposed a deal with opponent Hillary Clinton. “We have a situation in this country that has to be taken care of,” said Trump. “I will release my tax returns — against my lawyer’s wishes — when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release.”
The Republican presidential nominee used that offer to deflect the heat coming from debate moderator Lester Holt, of NBC News. He asked whether U.S. voters have a right to know about any conflicts of interest that might emerge from Trump’s disclosure of tax returns, a tradition with decades of standing in American presidential politics. The candidate’s opening response was the familiar dodge that he’d release the returns once the ongoing IRS audit is complete. Next, he said that folks would learn more from his financial disclosure to the Federal Election Commission than from his tax returns, a notion that shares a trait with many other Trump utterances (falsity).
Reminded by Holt that the IRS allows an individual to disclose tax returns during an audit, Trump then pulled out his exchange-tax-returns-for-deleted-emails idea.
And thus was born a talking point. In this post-debate spin room area, Trump national campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told the Erik Wemple Blog and another reporter that media outlets can “no longer report that he won’t release his taxes. He said he will” when Clinton releases her emails.
Like much of what comes from the mouths of Trump supporters these days, that is a glorious and transparent feat of deflection. The release of tax returns is among the de rigueur steps taken by serious presidential candidates — not something that’s negotiated as a tertiary fall-back tactic in a fast-moving presidential debate. Perhaps in deference to this standard, Trump months ago vowed to release his taxes.
Meanwhile, a question for Pierson: Why has Trump tended to retreat from his all-networks media-exposure strategy of the primary months to a more Fox News-centric approach? As CNN’s Brian Stelter reported last week, “Trump is saying ‘yes’ to Fox News almost every day but saying ‘no’ to most other major networks and news organizations — a highly unusual strategy for a presidential nominee.” Pierson denies this retreat. “What you’ve seen is a very hectic rally schedule. When he’s doing rallies — two or three a day — in multiple states, there’s really no time to do TV.” But didn’t he do many rallies in the primaries? “No, it’s much more now, because he’s going into other locations as well. He’s having coalition meetings.” So why wouldn’t he mix up the outlets when he does have time for interviews? Why Fox News instead of others? “Oh, I’m sure he would, if the schedule allowed. Mr. Trump loves doing media. He’s a media guy, everybody knows that. I don’t think it’s really fair to criticize him for media at this point considering how he’s been the most available candidate ever.”
This morning, indeed, Trump was available to “Fox & Friends.“