The build up last night on MSNBC had my phone ringing off the hook. Rachel Maddow proclaimed “we’ve got the Trump returns.” It turned out to be just the 2005 filing. Well, not the 2005 filing, the first two pages. Worse yet, it turned out to be an entirely predictable tax return for a wealthy businessman with tons of deductibles. It seemed like the tax version of Al Capone’s safe with Geraldo Rivera. What was particularly odd is that MSNBC was “all in” — even after seeing that there was little there. Maddow led with a long list of things we want to know from Trump’s tax return. But none of those things were in the return. They lined up experts who seemed a lot like the “weather center” reporters the night before covering the major snow storm in D.C. Reporters literally showed a dusting on cars in parking lots and spoke breathlessly about the possible storm that never came. The tax experts were left in the same curious position — discussing what might have been shown. As a legal commentator, I bowed out. It was like being called as a seismologists to discuss an earthquake that never happened. It is certainly true that Trump and Melania paid is a rate of less than 4 percent on their personal income — $5.3 million. However, they paid an additional $31 million under the alternative minimum tax, or AMT. They used every loophole and tactic to reduce payments but those loopholes were legal and used by many in his tax bracket.
Having said that, the White House and others went too far in raising allegations of criminal conduct by Maddow and MSNBC in reporting on the story. There was also a return to the mantra of the “dishonest media.” There was nothing dishonest in publishing the return. It was clearly overplayed but it was not dishonest to cover the leak.
I have a lot of respect for Maddow, who is as smart as they come and often offers penetrating analysis. However, one had to wonder if MSNBC was played. Why would someone leak a tax return that would seem to support Trump? It is a federal crime to do so with potential jail time of five years. Who would risk it for this? Even CNBC called the story a victory for Trump.
In fairness to Maddow, there is no legal reason that I know preventing President Trump from releasing his tax returns and he should do so. There is a long tradition of such transparency in history and I am very disturbed by the failure to do so in this Administration.
Having said that, the MSNBC seemed intent on riding this story despite the fact that it moved little. Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005 and paid $38 million in taxes.
After decrying the illegal disclosure of a return, the White House noted “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 even after taking into account large-scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million, 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.”
Here is the full statement:
“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.”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.”