With plenty of fanfare, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow dropped a “bombshell” about President Trump’s tax returns during her TV show on March 14. But the revelations essentially landed with a thud.
The “damaging evidence” against the president was limited to just two pages of his 2005 federal income tax return. It shows that Trump reported more than $150 million in taxable income, resulting in a $38 million tax bill, which he paid. At the time, the top tax rate, which is currently 39.6 percent, was 35 percent. (Trump is proposing a top rate of 33 percent.) The billionaire benefited from a $105 million loss.
The two pages were obtained from Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, who said the document came from an anonymous source. Anticipating the release of this information, the White House issued a statement that said, “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.” It also commented that, “It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.”
As is his habit, Trump took to Twitter this morning, going on the offensive. “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mailbox’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!”
On the other side of the fence, Johnston suggested on Maddow’s show that Trump himself might have been the leak.
“Let me point out, it’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things,” he said.
But Johnston did not offer any proof that Trump was the source.
Although Maddow didn’t delve into the $105 million loss claimed by Trump, a New York Times report last year indicated that Trump claimed a $916 million loss back in 1995 that was being carried over to offset gains. It noted that this tax write-off is so substantial it would enable Trump to “legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”
In addition, a previous report by the Wall Street Journal showed that he deducted $39 million in 2005 by promising not to build houses on his golf course in New Jersey.
Trump continues to protest that he can’t release his tax returns while he is under audit by the IRS, but others have pointed out that there is no such legal prohibition on the books.
Without the attachments to his 2005 return, which would have provided more insights into the tax calculations, releasing these two pages of Trump’s tax return isn’t likely to have much of an impact. And it’s probably not changing anybody’s mind about the president. Undoubtedly, most taxpayers who support Trump will continue to do so, while most of his detractors remain resolute.