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Law & the Courts

Rachel Maddow Wastes Everyone’s Time

Earlier tonight, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow shocked the world by declaring “we’ve got Trump’s tax returns!”

Then she later clarified she had obtained Donald Trump’s 1040 form from… 2005.

If you tuned in to Maddow this evening, you were treated to a long and meandering nineteen-minute soliloquy about the importance of President Trump releasing his tax returns, followed by a promise of details from Trump’s 2005 tax return after a commercial break. Anyone watching was probably wondering if the returns were found in Al Capone’s vault.

Her guest after the commercial break, David Cay Johnston of, declared the two pages of the return were mailed to him, and immediately after saying that, declared that Trump may have also leaked nude photos of Melania. Johnston said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that Trump himself had leaked the two pages of his 2005 tax return to him. It was a less than fully reassuring series of statements.

While Maddow was offering her long monologue, the Daily Beast actually published details about the first two pages of the return.

Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents.

The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the so-called “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax.

“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 White House said in a statement. “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.”

Trump’s 2005 return also shows that he’d continued to benefit from the roughly $916 million loss he reported in his 1995 return—published last year by The New York Times. Using a loophole Congress closed in 1996, Trump converted that loss into a tax credit for the same amount he could offset against income.

Maddow scoffed at a White House statement that denounced the “illegal stealing and publishing of the president’s tax return.”

She declared that because of the First Amendment, the tax return was not “illegally published.” That, of course, is not quite a full-throated denial that the pages of the return were stolen. (UPDATE: Emily Zanotti notices the image of the return has “CLIENT COPY” stamped in the corner. This may or may not mean Trump himself leaked the return; it does suggest someone with access to his copy of the return leaked it.) 

How big a dud was this report? Brian Fallon, formerly the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, declared on Twitter“[Democrats] should return focus to Trumpcare tomorrow & the millions it will leave uninsured, not get distracted by two pages from ‘05 tax return.”


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