In explaining why the Internal Revenue Service audits him every year, Donald Trump suggested Thursday night that the government agency has unfairly targeted him because of his religion.
"I'm always audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair — I don't know, maybe because of religion, maybe because of something else, maybe because I'm doing this, although this is just recently," Trump said in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo immediately following the 10th GOP debate on Thursday night.
Cuomo cut in: "What do you mean religion?"
"Well, maybe because of the fact that I'm a strong Christian, and I feel strongly about it and maybe there's a bias," Trump said.
Cuomo cut in again: "You think you can get audited for being a strong Christian?"
"Well, you see what's happened," Trump said. "You have many religious groups that are complaining about that. They've been complaining about it for a long time.
Later in the night, CNN's Anderson Cooper asked Trump if he actually believes the IRS is targeting him because of religion.
"Well, I know they certainly had a lot of problems, I mean, if you look at what's been happening over the years — I don't think, I don't think it applies," Trump said. "But I can tell you one thing: I am audited when I shouldn't be audited. ... I tell my people: Why is it that every single year, I'm audited, whereas other people that are very rich, people are never audited — and they don't even know what I'm talking about when I talk about audits."
Trump's tax returns became a popular discussion topic during the Thursday night GOP debate because former GOP nominee Mitt Romney has called for Trump to release the paperwork — which Romney has said contains a "bombshell." Trump has declined to release several years worth of tax returns because he is undergoing audits of those returns. Romney responded on Twitter, writing: "No legit reason @realDonaldTrump can't release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns no longer under audit."
On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly said that he — like most Americans — tries to pay as little in taxes as possible. And he has mocked Romney for struggling in explaining his own tax returns in 2012.
"I pay as little as possible," Trump said at a rally in western Iowa in late January. "It's an expense, right? That's the American way. I mean, do you want stupid people?"
Trump has also accused Romney of making this request for purely political reasons, noting that Romney did not release his tax returns this early in the election cycle, but instead waited until September, 2012. Romney responded on Twitter that he released his tax returns in January 2012, linking to a Washington Post article from the time.
"Let me explain about Mitt: You know, Mitt is a guy who was a horrible candidate," Trump said on CNN. "He lost a race that should have been won and should have been won easily, and I don't know what happened. He like disappeared the last two months. ... Mitt is just trying to remain relevant. Nobody is talking to him much any more. He got some publicity today."