On Tuesday afternoon, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow announced that she had gotten her hands on President Donald Trump’s tax returns. Here are five things to know about her announcement.
1. Maddow’s announcement
At around 8 p.m., the MSNBC host announced on Twitter that her station had gotten hold of the president’s tax returns. “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously),” she tweeted.
BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC.
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) March 14, 2017
There was much skepticism on Twitter. NPR podcaster Brent Baughman suggested that “‘Trump tax returns’ could mean something v different than ‘Trump’s tax returns.'”
"Trump tax returns" could mean something v different than "Trump's tax returns" https://t.co/3HLwPEtMIX
— Brent Baughman (@brentbaughman) March 14, 2017
Tim Hanrahan, a deputy bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, agreed. “Hmm….Would have been good to see the word ‘new’ in this tweet somewhere, as in ‘new tax returns.'”
Hmm….Would have been good to see the word "new" in this tweet somewhere, as in "new tax returns." https://t.co/DLG02gkLUE
— Tim Hanrahan (@TimJHanrahan) March 14, 2017
Maddow clarified that “What we’ve got is from 2005… the President’s 1040 form… details to come tonight 9PM ET, MSNBC.”
What we've got is from 2005… the President's 1040 form… details to come tonight 9PM ET, MSNBC.
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) March 15, 2017
But before 9 p.m., the White House scooped MSNBC…
2. The White House statement
Jennifer Ablan, editor-in-charge of U.S. investments at Reuters, memorialized the timing of the White House statement for posterity: “14-Mar-2017 08:29:23 PM – WHITE HOUSE SAYS IN RESPONSE TO MSNBC THAT TRUMP PAID $38 MILLION IN TAXES ON INCOME OF $150 MILLION”
14-Mar-2017 08:29:23 PM – WHITE HOUSE SAYS IN RESPONSE TO MSNBC THAT TRUMP PAID $38 MILLION IN TAXES ON INCOME OF $150 MILLION
— Jennifer Ablan (@jennablan) March 15, 2017
Yes, that’s pretty much it. USA Today reported that “a senior White House official” spoke “on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive financial matter.” This is why the statement was anonymous.
In 2005, Trump paid 24 percent of his income in taxes. In the words of The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza, “this is bad for him how?”
1. Trump made $150 million
2. Trump paid $36 million in taxes
And this is bad for him how?
— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) March 15, 2017
But the style of the White House statement actually said a great deal.
3. What the statement said
The White House statement came in Trumpian fashion. “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 anonymous message began.
“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.” The statement insisted that “it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.”
It concluded with the classic Trumpian flourish: “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.”
The White House not only insisted that Trump paid all that was required, it also declared that he had a duty to his family and his business to pay only as much as required, so he could invest the remainder in business and take care of his family. This is perfectly acceptable, but it is interesting that the president (or his staff) considered it necessary to insist upon it.
4. Maddow’s show
“I believe this is the only set of the president’s federal tax returns that reporters have ever gotten a hold of,” Maddow declared, holding up two pages of the president’s 1040 forms. “Aside from the numbers being large, these numbers are straightforward. He paid $38 million in taxes, he took a big write-down of $103 million (more on that later), add up the lines for income, he made more than $150 million in that year. Mazel tov!”
The MSNBC host explained that she received the papers from David Cay Johnston, identified by NBC News as a former reporter for The New York Times. The pages reportedly turned up “just the other day in his mailbox.”
Then Maddow gave the backstory on why the White House responded before her show. “We sent this over to the White House tonight, and the White House responded basically with … ‘Yep.'”
The MSNBC host responded to Trump’s claim that it is “illegal” for the station to report on the tax return. “For the record, the First Amendment gives us the right to publish this return. It is not illegally published,” she declared.
Rachel Maddow: "The first amendment gives us the right to publish this return." pic.twitter.com/Jgbu1GRSIk
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) March 15, 2017
5. The response
Many were underwhelmed by Maddow’s much-hyped exposé. “It took over 30 years for someone to top @GeraldoRivera for biggest over-hyped live TV epic fail in history. You did it Rachel Maddow!” tweeted YouTube star and media analyst Mark Dice.
Examining a screenshot of the tax returns, Yashar Ali, a contributing writer for The Daily Beast and New York Magazine, noted a stamp reading “client copy.” This evidence “doesn’t mean he [Trump himself] leaked, but means someone in his world def. did.”
Screenshot of Trump's taxes Maddow put up has "client copy" stamped on it. Doesn't mean he leaked, but means someone in his world def did.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) March 15, 2017
Comedian Dan Wilbur suggested the president himself leaked the returns. “Soooo… I’m guessing the White House leaked the returns. It makes Trump look like he paid a lot.”
Soooo… I'm guessing the White House leaked the returns. It makes Trump look like he paid a lot.
— Dan Wilbur (@DanWilbur) March 15, 2017
NBC News senior news editor Bradd Jaffy noted that this disproves speculation that Trump had not paid taxes for the past 18 years because of his 1995 loss. “He did in ’05 at least.”
Key point. There was speculation after NYT report that Trump didn't pay taxes for 18 years because of his 1995 loss. He did in '05 at least. https://t.co/6W3jJw44TP
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) March 15, 2017
BuzzFeedNews’ political editor Katherine Miller had a far more hilarious theory. “The CIA hacked Podesta and pinned it on Russia who leaked the tax return to get Trump out of this health care thing.” (Note to those who for some reason might need it — that’s clearly a joke.)
the CIA hacked Podesta and pinned it on Russia who leaked the tax return to get Trump out of this health care thing
— Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) March 15, 2017
But in all seriousness, somehow The New York Times still managed to get the numbers wrong.
Amazing @nytimes gets the numbers wrong on Trump tax return. He paid 24% on $152.7 million.
— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) March 15, 2017