Lead image via Flickr user Mike Licht
Like most of the country, I received an alert on Tuesday night that claimed Rachel Maddow was about to reveal Trump’s leaked tax returns on her MSNBC program. The alert didn’t include the word “complete,” but I still allowed myself to hope that the revelations would be substantial enough that immediate legal action could be taken against the misshapen condom full of circus peanuts currently occupying the White House. When it soon became clear that the leak in question contained just two pages of Trump’s return from 2005, my enthusiasm was dampered, but not to the same degree a great deal others on the left experienced. In just two pages, spotlighting details from more than a decade ago, Maddow was able to reveal some useful information about the baggage the president brings to the Oval Office with him.
The first bit of telling information that came from the whole affair is that the White House, hoping to undermine Maddow’s scoop, released the gist of the tax information before her show’s 9PM air time. The statement went on to call Maddow’s airing of the documents “illegal,” which is incorrect, but even the simplest First Amendment concepts seem to elude Trump unless he’s taking advantage of them, so no shocker there. The real surprise in this statement was that the White House released tax information with no apparent problem, despite repeated claims that Trump’s failure to release his returns was due to an ongoing audit. (Leading some analysts to suggest that the president very well may have leaked the documents himself.). As many reporters have pointed out, such an audit would not make releasing tax information impossible or even more difficult. So it appears from last night’s statement that the audit has either ended or, as is more likely the case, was never a factor—or even a reality— to begin with.
As David Cay Johnston, a financial reporter who received the leaked documents, told Maddow on her show, Donald Trump paid $38 million in federal tax in 2005 on an income of around $150 million, a figure which he reduced a great deal by claiming more than $100 million in losses for the year. This is another telling piece of information, since Trump’s financial plans as president include putting an end to current taxes on the wealthy that made his rate in 2005 higher than someone making, for example, minimum wage. Trump’s plans would see him paying the same low single-digit tax percentages as the economically downtrodden. As Maddow pointed out several times, finding out the ways in which a president stands to financially benefit from his office is one of the main reasons why every chief executive for the past half-century has released his tax information.
Were these two pages of a 12-year-old 1040 form an Earth-shattering scoop? No. But they show that every piece of information helps make Trump’s administration slightly more transparent. And Maddow wasn’t being sensational just for the sake of ratings. Rather, she knows that the only way to encourage similar leaks in the future (which seem to be our only realistic path towards gaining Trump’s entire tax history) is to give the pebble that starts the avalanche as much of a push as possible.