Democrat Hillary Clinton is unleashing a wave of attacks on Republican Donald Trump, a brash real estate mogul, for bragging that at least in some years he has avoided paying any U.S. income tax.
"That makes me smart," Trump said at the contentious debate between the two rivals earlier this week when she noted that in two years where his tax returns have been made public, he paid no taxes.
On Thursday, a political action group supporting Clinton's presidential candidacy posted a new ad online in four contested battleground election states, playing back several comments Trump made at the debate as she disparaged his reputation as a businessman who looked out only for his own financial well-being.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets attendees during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept. 29, 2016.
"This election is a choice between an economy that benefits everyone, and an economy that benefits Donald Trump," the ad said.
In the days since the debate, Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama have all attacked Trump for his unapologetic delight in avoiding taxes. Trump told an interviewer Wednesday that not paying taxes "would make me smart because tax is a big payment."
Clinton told supporters at one rally this week, "He actually bragged about gaming the system to get out of paying his fair share of taxes. In fact, I think there's a strong probability he hasn't paid federal taxes in a lot of years. If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make all the rest of us?"
Action by past candidates
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have released decades of their tax returns, with the 2015 statement showing they earned $10.6 million last year, much of it from lucrative speeches they gave, and paid $3.24 million in taxes to the federal government.
But Trump, shunning a four-decade tradition by U.S. presidential candidates, has refused to release his recent tax returns, saying he would disclose them when federal authorities are finished auditing them, although the U.S. tax agency has said there is no prohibition keeping him from making them public now.
With national political surveys showing that majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters think he should release his returns, Clinton at the debate ridiculed his position and offered theories on why he has not disclosed the information.
"For 40 years, everyone running for president has released their tax returns," she said. "You can go and see nearly, I think, 39, 40 years of our tax returns, but everyone has done it."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Sept. 28, 2016.
"So you've got to ask yourself," she said, "why won't [Trump] release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he's not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he's not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don't know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks.
"Or maybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes," she concluded, "because the only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax."
Payments to workers
Clinton also mocked his practice of cutting contractual payments to workers who helped build his casinos and golf courses.
"Maybe he didn't do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work, which our country should do, too," Trump retorted.
Clinton added, "Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis."
"That's called business, by the way," Trump interjected.
The two candidates square off again Oct. 9 in a town-hall format, where a small group of voters will get a chance to question them.