On ABC's Good Morning America, Brian Ross asserted that Sen. Hillary Clinton's "delay" in releasing tax returns "has raised a lot of questions," including "whether they paid their taxes like average Americans, or like the super-rich they have become." At no point during the segment did anyone, including Ross, who has falsely asserted that Sen. John McCain released his tax returns, question McCain's "delay."
During the April 3 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-anchor Chris Cuomo noted that "[t]he Clintons are expected to release" their tax returns "sometime in the coming days," and asked, "[B]ut is there something behind the delay?" ABC News chief investigative reporter Brian Ross asserted that "[t]he delay has raised lots of questions," and that "the tax returns -- expected any day now -- will answer a lot of questions about how they made so much, and whether they paid their taxes like average Americans, or like the super-rich they have become." Despite Ross' having falsely asserted in the past that Sen. John McCain had released his tax returns, at no point during the more than four-minute discussion of Sen. Hillary Clinton's taxes did Cuomo, Ross, co-anchor Robin Roberts or ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos mention McCain, much less discuss his yet-to-be-filed tax returns, and whether the McCains -- whose net worth has been estimated (subscription required) at $44 million -- and their "delay has raised lots of questions" about "whether they paid their taxes like average Americans."
As Media Matters for America documented, on the March 19 edition of ABC's World News, Ross falsely stated: "[M]ore than a year into the campaign, Senator Clinton, unlike Senators [Barack] Obama and McCain, has still not released any of her tax returns." In fact, McCain reportedly has not released any of his tax returns. ABC subsequently corrected Ross's false report. A Media Matters search of the Nexis database indicated that ABC has not reported on McCain's yet-to-be-filed tax returns since issuing the March 21 correction.
From the April 3 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
CUOMO: Now to the race for '08. Senator Barack Obama released his tax returns months ago and has been pressing Senator Hillary Clinton to do the same. Hers would be joint returns, of course, with former President Clinton.
The Clintons are expected to release them sometime in the coming days, but is there something behind the delay? What might we see in those returns? ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross is here, and he's been looking into that. Morning, Brian.
ROSS: Good morning, Chris. The delay has raised lots of questions. From reports Senator Clinton has already filed, we know she and her husband have made well over $50 million since they left the White House. But it could be a lot more. And the tax returns -- expected any day now -- will answer a lot of questions about how they made so much, and whether they paid their taxes like average Americans, or like the super-rich they have become.
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ROSS: On the campaign trail, Senator Clinton has promised to end tax breaks for the rich.
CLINTON: We are going to scrub down that tax code, so that the middle class gets the tax breaks, not the wealthy and the well-connected.
ROSS: And among the wealthy's favorite legal but controversial tax breaks -- setting up investments and accounts offshore in secretive places, like the Cayman Islands. And an examination of the records Clinton has filed reveals her husband is a partner in an investment fund --Yucaipa Global Partnership -- registered in the Cayman Islands.
JACK BLUM (Baker Hostetler attorney): No average person has interests and funds in the Cayman Islands. This is all of the above-average, non-tax-paying super-rich.
ROSS: The former president's Cayman Island investment is part of his dealings with a close friend, Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle. According to The Wall Street Journal, Clinton is also expected to receive a payout of around $20 million for his role as an adviser to Burkle's investment funds.
BLUM: He's selling the presidency. And it's also attracting rich investors who think, "Well, I'll get close to Bill Clinton if I buy into that fund." He's selling his charm and his ability to get other people to buy in.
ROSS: Clinton also has been paid millions as a consultant for a company run by another close friend, Indian-American businessman Vinod Gupta. Shareholders in Gupta's data collection company have complained that Gupta used company resources to ingratiate himself with Clinton and other personal friends, including the use of the company's private jet. Gupta has said it was a legitimate business expense to hire Clinton.
In addition to his consultant deals, the former president has made tens of millions of dollars giving speeches around the world -- $150,000 for this appearance in Dubai, and as much as $450,000 for a speech in London. A new accounting by ABC News found that as of June last year, Clinton had earned $47 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House.
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ROSS: A spokesman for the Clinton campaign says the former president and his wife pay full U.S. taxes at the ordinary income tax rate, meaning they get no special tax breaks, because the Cayman investment fund offshore doesn't give them one, they say. But with taxes, the devil is in the details, and the proof of what they really pay will come when the Clintons finally make public their tax returns sometime, they say, before April 15th -- Chris.
CUOMO: You make a good point there, Brian. We get it. They have a lot of money. But why would you have offshore accounts?
ROSS: Well, they say it's to attract foreign investors who don't have to pay U.S. taxes, but the tax experts we talked to say, "Whenever you go offshore, it immediately raises questions," and it's been one of the issues that Senator Clinton has raised during the campaign. So, these tax returns will answer a lot of questions that remain very large right now.
CUOMO: Brian Ross, thank you very much. Robin?
ROBERTS: All right. Now for the bottom line, we turn to ABC's chief Washington correspondent, and host of This Week, George Stephanopoulos. And let's pick it up here, George: Tax time and with delay from the Clintons with their tax returns, is there a concern within her campaign about this impending release?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Robin, I think they know it's going to be a distraction -- that people are going to be really interested in how President Clinton and Senator Clinton made all this money, what they did with it, how much they gave to charity. But I think they also believe this is not going to be a bombshell, that the bottom line will show that the Clintons did pay their fair share of taxes, they didn't try to evade taxation in any way, and that they also gave a fair amount to charity.
ROBERTS: Yeah, we still have a lot of time between now and the next primary -- that, of course, being on the 22nd in Pennsylvania..