The big story Tuesday evening revolved around Rachel Maddow’s announcement that she had obtained “Trump tax returns.” However, all we got was two pages from his 2005 return that told us really nothing more than how much he earned that year, what he paid in taxes, that he wrote off $100 million in business losses, and he paid a lower tax rate than he should have based on how much money he made. Though he still paid around $38 million in taxes.
Naturally, the White House and most of Trump’s defenders were quick to seize on this non-story, many mocking Maddow for basically reporting that he paid $38 million.
As usual, there’s actually much more to this story.
First, I posted on Facebook how I felt Maddow used the “clickbait” of having Trump tax returns to lure in a bigger audience to spend the first 20 minutes of her show running down several shady and unethical ties he has to a Russian billionaire; his possible financial dealings that might compromise him as Commander-in-Chief; Michael Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey; how Trump has continually lied about why he won’t release his taxes; and how important it is that we see these documents due to financial dealings that could very well be unconstitutional. She also made sure to emphasize that even crooked Richard Nixon released his tax returns while he was being audited — clearly taking a jab at the excuse Trump’s cited as his reasoning for not releasing his returns.
Did she miscalculate this? I think so. Based upon the reaction I saw from many (even several so-called “political experts” on major networks), this was being spun as a “positive” for Trump, with some pointing out that all these documents did was prove he paid taxes in 2005.
To be honest, I felt that way at first as well.
Those feelings quickly faded after I read the White House response to Maddow’s report, saw a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., and heard the source for these documents, Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, say that Trump has a history of “leaking” documents to the press which he feels might serve his interests.
“By the way, let me point out that it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things,” Johnston said.
Let’s also not forget that Trump is someone who was more or less caught pretending to be his own publicist under the names “John Miller” and “John Barron,” men whose voices sounded an awful lot like The Donald. So let’s not pretend like it would be out of character for Trump to “leak” documents trying to manipulate the media.
Then there’s the fact that they’re stamped “Client Copy,” an indication that Trump, or at least someone connected to him, was the one who had access to these documents.
The White House’s official statement is actually more evidence that Trump was likely behind this:
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. That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that. Despite this substantial income figure and tax paid, 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.
That’s the White House using these two documents to brag about his so-called “business intelligence,” attempting to boast about how much he paid in taxes, then push conspiracies about the “dishonest media” using documents that were “illegally” obtained.
Except the documents weren’t “illegally stolen” by the media. The First Amendment gives the press the right to report on information they’re given. As long as no one linked to NBC, MSNBC, or Maddow actively engaged in, or encouraged, the process of obtaining these documents, then they did absolutely nothing illegal.
Then there’s the aforementioned tweet from Trump Jr.:
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 15, 2017
If Trump’s so “upset” and “angry” that someone would “illegally steal” his tax documents, why would his son be on social media literally bragging about the very same thing the White House boasted about in its statement?
Then there’s the common sense reality that these documents were obviously not stolen by someone at the IRS. Ignoring the fact that they say “Client Copy” on them, if someone at the IRS were really going to risk their job, and possible time in jail, stealing Trump’s tax returns, I’m fairly certain they would have gone after far more documents containing much more pertinent information than two mostly non-controversial pages from over a decade ago. It just stands to reason that if someone at the IRS could gain access to those two documents, they could gain access to practically all of them.
I fully believe Trump had these documents “leaked” so he could attack the “dishonest media,” push the ridiculous conspiracy that these documents were “illegally stolen,” and hopefully create the headline “Trump paid $38 million in taxes in 2005.” Sure, he paid a lower percentage than he should have, but it looks rather petty to attack someone for paying $38 million in taxes, which is clearly how Trump’s spinning this.
When you get right down to it, assuming Trump was behind this “leak” (which we will likely never know for certain — though most signs seem to indicate he was), this only helps to solidify the likelihood that he’s hiding information in his tax returns. I think it goes without saying that if Trump were going to “leak” any sort of tax documents, he would cherry pick a year that made him look better than any other. Meaning that 2005’s returns could very well be the “best” year Trump’s had over the last decade or two.
It goes back to “why” he would do this. As Maddow pointed out, he could easily release his tax returns any time he wanted. Yet he continues to refuse to do so. Being that this seems as if it’s another self-orchestrated distraction by Trump, it’s telling that he’d go to such lengths to try to possibly “take heat” off growing calls by Americans for him to release his taxes.
That brings me back to a point I’ve brought up every time I’ve discussed Trump’s taxes: It’s not just what’s in his tax returns, but why he continues to lie about releasing them.
Someone doesn’t typically lie about something unless there’s a reason for them to do so. The reason why Trump continues to mislead Americans about his tax returns is the real scandal here. If he has nothing to hide, then there shouldn’t be any reason for him to avoid letting the American people see the “proof” that these allegations that he has financial ties to Russia are, as he claims, “fake.” One would think someone like Trump who seems to like to “stick it” to the media whenever he can would love to prove everyone wrong, right? Yet he seems to be going out of his way to avoid doing so. Which may now include “leaking” his own cherry-picked tax documents to then create a “story” he can try to spin for his own interests.
And, again, the documents actually say “Client Copy.”
In my opinion, this was Donald Trump’s attempt to distract Americans amid growing calls for him to release his tax returns, which led to Rachel Maddow’s attempt to use “clickbait” to lure in a larger audience for the first 20 minutes of her show, where she ran down the rather extensive links he has to Russia.
Bottom line is, what we all need to be talking about isn’t Maddow’s miscalculation by overselling this “clickbait,” or how much Trump paid in taxes in 2005, but rather Trump’s growing list of ties to Russia and why he seems to be doing everything he can to avoid showing the American people his tax returns.