On Tuesday, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow revealed a portion of President Donald Trump’s tax returns from 2005. However, it was quickly discovered that her scoop was more overblown than Winter Storm Stella.
The tax return revealed two things:
Trump earned over $150 million (£120 million) during that year and paid a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes.
The return also showed Trump was reaping the benefits from a $916 million (£733 million) loss reported in a 1995 return, which was released by The New York Times last year. “Using a loophole Congress closed in 1996, Trump converted that loss into a tax credit for the same amount he could offset against income,” The Daily Beast reported.
Maddow said the return showed up in journalist David Cay Johnston’s mailbox. While on the show, Johnston said it is entirely possible that Trump leaked the document himself.
"Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement from a White House spokesperson read. “It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans."
Trump is the first president in decades to not release tax returns. Trump previously said he would not release them because he was under audit by the IRS. However, the IRS has said that an audit does not prevent anyone from releasing them themselves.
As tax expert Joseph J. Thorndike said in a Washington Post podcast, “Presidents are for tax paying purposes private citizens and just like every other taxpayer in the country they’re tax returns are private. There’s no special law applied to presidents.”
That said, Trump’s tax returns could finally answer questions people have about his business dealings, perhaps most importantly his dealings with Russia. As Politico notes, Trump has said that “the reason they blame Russia [for hacking into Democratic emails] is they are trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know about Russia, but not about the inner workings. I have no business there and no loans from Russia. I have a great balance sheet.”
Given questions swirling around his administration and its possible ties to Russia, Trump’s tax returns might reveal what his dealings are with Russia.
The real story behind the scoop is that the Trump administration released information from the tax return before Maddow could release it. Why is that notable? This means the White House is sitting on the tax returns and deciding not to release them, as Politico's Marty Kady noted on Twitter.
The press has been asking for Trump’s tax returns for months. But perhaps more importantly, the American people have been demanding them. Not only does a January poll show almost two-thirds of Americans think the issue is important, over a million people have signed a petition asking for Trump to release the documents. “The unprecedented economic conflicts of this administration need to be visible to the American people,” the petition reads.
The fact is, Maddow tweeted about her scoop and, only hours after, The White House released part of the long-awaited tax returns. Even if Trump himself sent the return to David Cay Johnston’s mailbox, we still know from this debacle that they are able to be shared with the public. The question remains: Why haven’t they been released in full?