Will Trump ever release his tax returns? White House won't say

Spicer: Not taking anything off the table on North Korea
Spicer: Not taking anything off the table on North Korea

Those looking for President Donald Trump's tax returns will likely have to keep waiting.

Pressed Monday about whether Trump will follow recent presidential precedent and release his tax returns, press secretary Sean Spicer claimed the president cannot do so because he is under audit by the IRS, the same explanation Trump has used since early last year. The Trump administration spokesman deflected when asked if Trump would authorize the IRS to release details of the audit, saying "the president's view on this has been very clear" and "the American people understood it" when they elected him.

"It's the same thing that was discussed during the campaign trail. The president is under audit. It's a routine one that continues and I think that the American public know clearly where he stands," Spicer said during his daily briefing to reporters.

Almost all major presidential candidates since the 1970s have released their tax returns, but Trump did not do so, saying he would when his audit ended. Critics have argued that he should make more financial information public due to his wealth and potential ties to countries that could pose conflicts of interest in office.

Protesters in several American cities this weekend urged Trump to release his tax returns in demonstrations tied to Tax Day. Trump criticized the demonstrations in Sunday tweets, claiming without citing evidence that someone "paid" the protesters and declaring "the election is over!"

In his daily press briefing Monday, Spicer was asked specifically if Trump will ever make his tax returns public. Here's Spicer's exchange with Jonathan Karl of ABC News:

Karl: "Is it time to just say once and for all the president is never going to release his tax returns?"

Spicer: "We'll have to get back to you on that."

Karl: "You won't ... I mean you see ... really?"

Spicer: "Really."

Karl: "So he may?"

Spicer: "No, I said I'd have to get back to you on that ... he is still under audit. The statement still stands."

Pieces of Trump's tax returns have been reported before. The New York Times anonymously received the first pages of Trump's 1995 state tax filings, which showed a net loss of about $916 million.

In October, Trump admitted to using the loss to avoid paying some federal income taxes and defended the practice, saying he used the tax system to his advantage and knew how to fix it.

Documents from Trump's 2005 federal tax return, obtained by investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, showed the president paid $36.6 million in income tax on income of more than $150 million. The White House previously released a statement last month saying Trump paid $38 million in taxes, but Johnston notes that not all of that is income tax.

— CNBC's Eamon Javers contributed to this report

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that the 2005 tax return obtained by David Cay Johnston shows Trump paid $36.6 million in income tax. The $38 million figure released by the White House is not all income tax.