Trump at GOP debate: I'll release tax returns when audits are done

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Trump Discusses Audit, Debate Performance

HOUSTON, Texas — Donald Trump cited ongoing tax audits as the reason he is delaying releasing his tax returns despite pressure from former GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

During Thursday night's Republican debate in Houston, the billionaire said he will "absolutely" release his return, "but I'm being audited now for two or three years, so I can't do it until the audit is finished, obviously, and I think people would understand that."

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But that argument carries little weight. An audit doesn't prevent someone from releasing their tax return, the IRS says.

"Federal privacy rules prohibit the IRS from discussing individual tax matters. Nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information," the IRS said in a statement released to NBC News.

See more from the GOP debate:

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Trump at GOP debate: I'll release tax returns when audits are done
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, left and Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump talk at a break during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., looks on during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, looks on during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, speaks as Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, left, and Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, react during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ohio Gov. John Kasich walks onstage before the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Donald Trump (L) answers a question as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) looks on during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onstage before the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) and Ted Cruz (R-TX)(R) listen as Donald Trump answers a question during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ben Carson speaks during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
US Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz is seen on television in the CNN filing room during the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, center, speaks as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, look on during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is seen on television in the CNN filing room during the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump both speak during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
From left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas prepare for a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
As Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, center, speaks, Republican presidential candidates, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., second from left, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, second from right and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, look on during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L-R) stand on stage ater being introduced for 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
From left, Republican presidential candidates, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich listen to the U.S. national anthem before a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Moderator Wolf Blitzer (L) and US Republican Presidential Candidates (L-R) Ben Carson , Marco Rubio , Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich prepare for the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Workers prepare for the Republican presidential candidates to meet at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Donald Trump (L) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talk over each other in the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN listens to the answers to a question during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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Immediately following the GOP debate, Trump told CNN's Chris Cuomo that he thought he might be being audited because of his religious beliefs. "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.

CNN's Anderson Cooper pressed Trump later, asking if the businessman really thought the IRS was targeting him for religious reasons. "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 ... are never audited' — and they don't even know what I'm talking about when I talk about audits."

The IRS insists that Trump's audits have nothing to do with anything other than the financial information he gave to the IRS.

"The IRS stresses that audits of tax returns are based on the information contained on the taxpayer's return and the underlying tax law - nothing else. The audit process is handled by career, non-partisan civil servants, and we have processes in place to safeguard the exam process," the IRS said.

When asked about his previous statements during the 10th GOP debate — that his returns will be "out at some point, probably" — Trump instead lashed out at the man asking the questions. Biting back at conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump asserted that "very few people listen to your radio show. That's the good news."

However, when Trump appeared on Hewitt's show earlier this week, he touted the size of his returns and floated that he's "audited all the time" by the government. He said then, "I think every single year, I've had an audit for years." He did not, however, say that he was currently being audited or working on tax files that were in the process of being audited.

"So it's, you know, one of those things," he told Hewitt previously. "But we are working. They're very complex papers, but we're working on it."

Trump's tax punt drew ire from his fellow Republicans on stage, specifically Cruz and Rubio who will be releasing their own returns in the coming days.

Romney, who got the ball rolling Wednesday by tweeting that there was "good reason to believe that there's a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes," was also unimpressed.

He tweeted again, saying Trump had "no legit reason" not to release his returns but that "if scared" Trump should "release earlier returns no longer under audit." Romney himself has been audited in the past, but it's unclear if those were some of the years that he released during his run.

Also see celebrities who have endorsed Trump:

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Trump at GOP debate: I'll release tax returns when audits are done

Kid Rock

Kid Rock showed his support for the presidential hopeful in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying he's "digging Trump." He also added, "Let the motherf---ing business guy run it like a f---ing business. And his campaign has been entertaining as shit."

Photo via AP

Mike Tyson
 

The former heavyweight champion announced that he would endorse Trump while appearing on HuffPost Live back in October of 2015. "He should be president of the United States," Tyson said. 

As for what Trump has said about immigration, Tyson said the words were "crude" and someone could work with him on the delivery of his message.

Photo via AP

Stephen Baldwin


Baldwin, who was fired by Trump on two different seasons of "The Celebrity Apprentice," said during an interview with Don Lemon on an episode of "CNN Tonight" that Trump would make a "great" president "because he's not a politician, and he doesn't care what anybody thinks."  

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Gary Busey

The actor endorsed Trump back in 2011, even after being fired from season four of "The Celebrity Apprentice," and offered his praise for the presidential hopeful again recently. "He's a great guy. He's sharp. He's fast," he told Fox411. "He can change the country after the last eight years."  

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Dennis Rodman

The retired pro-basketball player tweeted: "@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years. We don't need another politician, we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016." He was fired from season two of "The Celebrity Apprentice." 

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Lou Ferrigno

When asked by TMZ for his thoughts on Trump, the actor and former bodybuilder said, "I hope Donald goes all the way." He was also fired from a season of "The Celebrity Apprentice." 

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Hulk Hogan

TMZ asked Hogan which 2016 Republican presidential candidate he would want to face in the ring, but instead of answering the question, he said he'd want to be Trump's running mate. 

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Ted Nugent 

The musician wrote an article for WorldNetDaily in which he said, "[Trump] should be given the Medal of Freedom for speaking his mind in such a bold, honest, and straightforward manner."

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Tila Tequila 

The model and reality star posted a video on YouTube expressing her support for Trump.

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Wayne Newton

The Las Vegas entertainer announced his support on "Fox and Friends," “I love Donald, and he would make a great president,” he said. But he also voiced his support for other hopefuls, such as Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson. 

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Willie Robertson

The businessman and star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” supported Trump at a rally in Oklahoma last year, where he was invited up on stage. He officially announced his endorsement in January. 

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Jesse Ventura 

Jesse Ventura

The former pro wrestler, former Minnesota governor, and actor was speaking with previous Trump staffer Roger Stone for "Off the Grid," when Ventura said, "I shocked my staff today. I came in and said, ‘You know what, as far as the Republicans are concerned, I hope Trump wins.'" Though he also added, "Now I’m not a Republican — I’m not a Democrat either — so ultimately, I’d like somebody else to win overall.”

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Charlie Sheen 

After initially calling Trump a "shame pile of idiocy" in a tweet, Sheen had a change of heart a month later and tweeted that he'd be Trump's "VP in a heartbeat!"

Photo via AP

Ivana Trump

The socialite held a luncheon in support of her ex-husband. 

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Mike Ditka

The retired NFL coach said of Trump, "I think that he has the fire in his belly to make America great again and probably do it the right way," in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. 

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Terrell Owens 

The retired NFL wide receiver told TMZ Sports, "This may be what the country needs and Trump... He’s a guy who won’t put up with B.S. and has what it takes to change how government is run." He appeared on the most recent season of "The Celebrity Apprentice."   

Photo via Getty 

Azealia Banks

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Jesse James 

James, a TV personality and founder of West Coast Choppers, posted a lengthy Facebook message in January supporting his former "Celebrity Apprentice" boss. He said:

 "Ive met a lot of people in life and I have found it best to form opinions about them by actually meeting them in person. ... What I personally observed is a man that is perfect suited to run this country. ... One thing you know about me is Good or bad I will always tell it like it is. This guy is the Real Deal, and will Make America Great Again."

Photo via AP

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