“I want to release my tax returns but I can't release it while I'm under an audit,” Trump said during the debate last night. “Obviously if I'm being audited, I'm not going to release a return.”
The real estate mogul has been fending off calls from others in the party, like Mitt Romney, to release his returns, as his main rivals, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, committed to release their own records soon.
"You're in the midst of negotiating and talking to the IRS," Trump later told CNN. "Your lawyers would never allow you to do that."
“Until it is finished by the IRS ... I will not be releasing, because that would not be a good thing to do," Trump added at a later press conference. "I will not complicate things by doing that."
But several tax experts told ABC News today that there are no legal obstacles to releasing the returns while they are under investigation by the IRS.
“I don’t know of any legal impediments that would prevent him from actually doing this,” said Thomas White, a tax law professor at the University of Virginia Law School.
Daniel Shaviro, a tax law professor at New York University, agreed. “I don’t see any legal reasons for it,” he said. “I could imagine, say, [public relations] reasons relating to the fact that it’s under audit.”
No legit reason @realDonaldTrump can't release returns while being audited, but if scared, release earlier returns no longer under audit.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 26, 2016
Still, some experts understand Trump's caution. They say that it’s possible that revelations in the public square could affect future audits in some way, but there are no legal barriers to their release -– even years currently being investigated by the IRS.
"What was disclosed on a prior return may affect what’s going on currently, so it’s not unexpected for him to take that position," said White. “It’s not something that happens just this year. It’s a series of transactions over an extended period of time that might affect way audits proceed in the future,” he said.
Joe Bankman, a tax law expert from Stanford Law School, said releasing the records would not impede the IRS's audit in any way. “They couldn’t care less,” he told ABC News.
Trump says that the audit is “very routine” because of his personal wealth and complex returns. For some, this isn’t a surprise.
“The IRS goes where the money is,” explained Bankman. “It considers more than anything else just how much money is involved.”
“It’s a function of just having complex tax issues, which are likely to produce disputes and likely to produce revenue,” said White. “In an era of diminishing resources, the IRS is interested in devoting resources where they are most likely to be productive.”
But Shaviro disagreed. “I would think it’s unusual to be audited every single year, but if they find stuff, they would be more likely to do so,” he told ABC News.
Experts also cast doubt on Trump’s claim that he needed lots of time to prepare the tax returns for public consumption.
“I suppose it could take a little time, but not much,” said Bankman.
But White added it could take some time to integrate audit settlements or confer with partners about how to publicly release the information. “In the real estate world, there’s a lot of sensitivity about that,” he said.