Bad Return: MSNBC Publication Triggers A Wave Of Responses From Mockery To Criminal Allegations

imgresThe 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.”

I agree with Maddow that MSNBC has a journalistic basis for publishing this return under the First Amendment, even though publication is also a federal crime. I also did not like the reference to “the dishonest media.”  There was nothing dishonest about reporting on such a leak.  It is wrong to continually accuse media of being dishonest or liars when they are performing their important function under our Constitution.  I do believe that Trump is facing a hostile media and that coverage has been at times slanted. However, media remains one of the most important institutions in protecting our liberties.
I also did not appreciate the allegation that MSNBC violated the law.  Most leaks technically violate the law but they are at the core of some of the most important historical reforms in our history.  From the Pentagon Papers to Watergate, leaks have revealed illegality and dishonestly long shielded by the government.  Administrations have sought to find those who steal and release such documents, but have historically respected the right of the media to cover such leaks.   Once again, this constant drumbeat against the media needs to end.  The White House is perfectly correct in challenging biased reporting and I have seen plenty of instances of such reporting in the last few months.  However, Administrations should not throw around criminal allegations against the media for reporting a clearly newsworthy leak. It turned out to be less important than MSNBC suggested and that was something of an embarrassment. However, in light of the President’s refusal to turn over his returns, it was by any definition newsworthy for publication to address some of the long-standing allegations.
What do you think?

160 thoughts on “Bad Return: MSNBC Publication Triggers A Wave Of Responses From Mockery To Criminal Allegations”

  1. On the good ship
    Lollipop
    Its a sweet trip
    To the candy shop
    Where bon-bon’s play,
    On the sunny beach
    Of peppermint bay
    Lemonade stands,
    Everywhere
    Crackerjack bands,
    Fill the air,
    And there you are,
    Happy landings on a chocolate bar.
    See the sugar bowl
    Do a tootsie roll
    In a big bad devils food cake,
    If you eat too much,
    Oh, oh,
    You’ll awake,
    With a tummy ache.On the good ship
    Lollipop
    Its a sweet trip
    To the candy shop
    Where bon-bon’s play,
    On the sunny beach
    Of peppermint bay
    Lemonade stands,
    Everywhere
    Crackerjack bands,
    Fill the air,
    And there you are,
    Happy landings on a chocolate bar.
    See the sugar bowl
    Do a tootsie roll
    In a big bad devils food cake,
    If you eat too much,
    Oh, oh,
    You’ll awake,
    With a tummy ache.emp

    —-
    Shirley Temple sang that song.

  2. What did the government do with the $35Million in dollars paid by Trump? The year 2006 was the year that the navy launched The Good Ship Lollypop. It cost more than 35 million.
    I think someone needs to send in the lyrics to that song here on the blog.

  3. This is your Captain of the USS Republican, the water levels around your waist is not really water. It may look like water but pay no attention because somebody is lying to you. Due to regulation cuts the ship has no life jackets, Thank you and enjoy your swim.

  4. Maddow sucks but,

    I seem to recall a good deal of justifiable criticism of Hillary Clinton abusing the power of her time in office establishing profitable self serving relationships to the benefit of her “foundation”, absurdly expensive speaking fees with the people of Wall Street, almost as cozy as President Trump with Goldman Sachs, and so on.

    Now, however, the tone seems to have shifted to, “Well, a president who doesn’t use the power of his office for his own personal self serving gain (getting rid of the AMT) to lower his own taxes at the expense of the poor shouldn’t be trusted.”

    Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha, indeed, what kind of screw ball President would that be, representing the people instead of himself and his billionaire cronies! Another great day to get in front of a mess and call it a parade. 🙂

    Then again, did I mention Maddow sucks? She does. Big time. So perhaps she was used for this, “look over there” story as a way of gaming a little sympathy for the President. And diverting attention from all the prodigious plans he is developing to make America as great as it was back in 1929.

    1. all the prodigious plans he is developing to make America as great as it was back in 1929.

      What’s your objection to 1929?

    1. In 2014, The New York Times legally PAID NO TAXES and received a tax refund of $3.6 million despite earning a $29.9 million pretax profit.

      So, does NY Times consider ZERO their “fair share?”

    2. This person must be a real whiz to pull all that information from one year’s taxes. Doubt the veracity.

  5. Here’s what I think: I think Trump leaked this document himself as part of his general tactic to divert attention away from the various scandals that are brewing, and also possibly because Trump reported a high income that year (I won’t use the word “earned”), likely the last year he could report such income. His son boasted about the high income, so this fits.

    The document itself was placed in the hands of David Cay Johnson from an unknown source. Johnson appeared on Maddow’s program and reported that the document appeared “over the transom”, which I assume means it appeared from an unknown source. Johnson also believes that Trump was the source. Another reason Trump may have does this is to add another log to the fire Trump is attempting to build that the media are against him and are dishonest. This is advance groundwork for his media attacks that will come once the evidence about Russian involvement in the election comes to light, plus the lack of substance to Trump’s claim that President Obama personally wiretapped him.

      1. Maybe in old office and school buildings. I took his reference to be a metaphor, not literally that someone sailed papers through an open transom.

        1. Natacha – I am a literalist. If he says it came thru an open transom in cold NYC, it darn well better.

    1. Some good , fascist Trump like candidate in the Netherlands lost and lost badly.:) The same thing happened in Austria.

      1. I read here often but seldom post….

        “anon” your posts are moronic.

        Are you residing in the UK?

        If so please stay there.

  6. I agree that the violation in law should have been noted. However, the leak in this case does not bother me as many such ‘leaks’ have occurred within the last couple of years. Furthermore, past presidents have had no issue with releasing their tax documents. Since Mr. Trump seems to be sniping away at reporters it seems that the reaction from them might be a wise takeaway.

    1. Gina – I think that Trump should require all reporters in the WH press pool to release the income tax returns. No returns, no access to the pool.

  7. I think it is one thing to leak a tax document if there is some compelling item of interest in it. That would be similar to a good faith argument for busting down a door without a search warrant because it was believed a kidnapped child was inside along with a tub of acid.

    But what if there is nothing of compelling interest in the document? No contribution to the John Gotti Charity, or income from Pravda? In that case, one is just simply releasing personal information for malicious purposes.

    Like others, I think JT is being way to accommodating to MSNBC. It’s a federal crime, and should be punished as such. Or,maybe somebody can release personal information relating to Rachel Maddow, to show her what it feels like?

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky – since they only got two pages and it was marked ‘client copy’ I like the idea it came from a bank or other lender that Trump did business or tried to do business with in 2006 or 2007. Not sure that narrows it down, but it takes the government off the hook, just for this one.

  8. Unintentional acts speak louder than you know:

    Read this headline from the Business Insider. “Sean Spicer began his briefing with his lapel pin upside down, and Twitter lost it”

    1. Says more about Twitter than anything else could possibly say, don’t you think?

  9. I agree with a few here that there seems to be some vacillating on the law from a professor of law. Ms. Maddox is quite right that the First Amd gives her the right to report on the leaked return. And she did her best to make more of it than there was. Yet, as a reporter, she, or her panel should have noted that the release of the return was probably a violation of law. And to Mr. Turley, you are correct. There is no law preventing Mr. Trump releasing his tax returns, but there is also no law obligating him to do so. At least none that I am aware of.

    1. Lorenzo – no part of the Constitution makes it a requirement for a Presidential candidate or the President to make public his/her tax returns. However, as an offer of good faith, the MSM, should make theirs public to each others networks and news organizations for intense analyzation. If Trump saw that they were willing to sacrifice themselves, maybe he would do the same. 😉

      1. Paul, that falls under the honorable rule “Don’t give orders you wouldn’t be willing to carry out yourself”, and thus, is inapplicable to the MSM.

  10. John Austin:
    Ms. Maddow again exemplified the type of half report/half theory news that the liberal press favors. Exposing herself by such truths seems to be her staple diet. I was not aware of the “criminal act” comment out of the Whitehouse regarding the “tax forms” displayed.

    Frankly the “leak” bothers me. I can only presume that the President didn’t give the documents up. And I don’t believe that the President’s CPA firm would take the chance. That leaves perhaps an employee of the IRS that coughed the few pages up. That would be a Federal Crime. It would be interesting to see the in-house watermarks on the pages she had?

    Thanks for good reporting.

  11. John Austin:
    Ms. Maddow again exemplified the type of half report/half theory news that the liberal press favors. Exposing herself by such truths seems to be her staple diet. I was not aware of the “criminal act” comment out of the Whitehouse regarding the “tax forms” displayed.
    Frankly the “leak” bothers me. I can only presume that the President didn’t give the documents up. And I don’t believe that the President’s CPA firm would take the chance. That leaves perhaps an employee of the IRS that coughed the few pages up. That would be a Federal Crime. I would be interesting to see the in-house watermarks on the pages she had?

    Thanks for good reporting.

      1. “punked” is an old term from days of old when knights were bold. I forget what it means or implies. Something to do with a rear ender but not a car collision? Please advise. If she is “bent” does it meant that she had a rear ender? But, if she is bent what would another female do to rear end her?

  12. I’m still waiting on someone from the Left to define “fair share”. Is it a %? If so, % of what? A set $ figure? If you’re “rich”, is your “fair share” all of your money?

    anon, Steve Groen, Webster, somebody help us out here. FFS

    1. Mean rate correlated directly with income and not varying at a given income level in ways unpredictable to the layman.

  13. The image of Geraldo Rivera opening that bank vault bought back great memories. I was sooooo happy he found nothing and was humiliated on live TV. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

  14. “They used every loophole and tactic to reduce payments but those loopholes were legal and used by many in his tax bracket.”

    President Trump, like all wealthy people, has been audited many times. Therefor, if he was guilty of tax evasion, he would have been jailed years ago. All I have ever believed was that he used each and every tax deduction (called a loophole if you make over the median income, but a deduction for those who are in the middle class) and tax shelter legally allowed to him. I also suspect that he refused to release his returns because he did not want to be hammered for taking those deductions. We are also all aware that he carried his losses forward, as he was legally allowed. Why would you pay money on a loss? I think Trump was afraid of the backlash that always arises when the rich use the same deceptions that we do. For instance, if the rich were to pay taxes on investment income, then so would we…and then how many middle class people could invest in the stock market if they had to make astronomical returns just to cover the taxes? It would close out investment to the rest of us.

    If someone is threatening to blackmail you, then you release the information yourself and get in front of it. It takes away their power. Trump should have released his tax returns long ago, and then the furor would have died down. Hillary Clinton was a career politician, and so she would have crafted her tax returns 365 days a year to conform to public scrutiny.

    The media has the right to publish leaks such as General Flynn’s discussion and Wikileaks. The illegal act was the actual theft of the tax returns, not its publishing. Trump was wrong to say the media’s actions were illegal, and Maddow was wrong to put up experts who imagined that in an alternate universe Trump’s taxes may have been illegal while looking at legal tax returns. Both of them wrongfully made allegations of illegal behavior. And the media was dishonest when they looked at those 2 pages and waxed rhapsodic about the fantasies of illegal behavior those legal filings could possibly cover up. That gave the impression that Trump was caught with tax evasion, when that is untrue. But they were not dishonest merely for reporting on the leak.

    I have always taken exception to this general feeling of how dare the rich use tax deductions, when the advertisements going around now for tax season are along the lines of “don’t pay a dime more than you owe.” Why do people think that such behavior magically evaporates when you are rich. Should they be presented with a tax bill of X, and instead pay X + Y because they really want to help out the government, and paying the lion’s share of our revenue just isn’t enough?

    Regardless of what the extreme Left may tell you, the rich pay the freight on our tax revenue. And the poor, who pay zero, keep demanding that other people pay more and more and more so they can get more stuff. And what usually happens is the middle class keeps getting hit with it, too.

    We’re not all pulling together the same. I know this is contrary to modern belief, but I would like if each and every person paid the same tax rate. That would actually be fair. I would want benefits to rise so that the poor have exactly the same net as they did before, but if everyone paid the same, maybe they would be less inclined to raise taxes, because it would affect them too. Studies show that people are far more likely to demand sacrifice and pain (and taxes are really both) from others than they would of themselves. And when those “others” are a minority, like the rich, it becomes a fait accompli as soon as it’s on the ballot. Do away with or greatly streamline deductions, and everyone pays the same. Now that’s fair.

  15. 18 U.S. Code § 4 – Misprision of felony

    Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
    (June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 684; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(G), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)

    I don’t know of a Maddow exception to Misprison of a Felony.

  16. Tonight, Maddow will break the exclusive story about Trump’s 1998 eye exam. Rumor has it he was unable to read the bottom like of the eye chart, yet he mysteriously does not wear glasses. Tune in live with Rachel to learn why!

      1. No evidence? It’s coming.

        “President Trump’s assertion that his phones at Trump Tower were tapped last year has been treated as hilarious—and in some circles as beyond contempt. But I can vouch for the fact that extracurricular surveillance does occur, regardless of whether it is officially approved. I was wiretapped in 2011 after taking a phone call in my congressional office from a foreign leader.”

        http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/03/10/dennis-kucinich-im-no-fan-trumps-but-hes-got-point-about-wiretapping.html

  17. “I agree with Maddow that MSNBC has a journalistic basis for publishing this return under the First Amendment, even though publication is also a federal crime.”

    “I also did not appreciate the allegation that MSNBC violated the law. Most leaks technically violate the law but they are at the core of some of the most important historical reforms in our history. From the Pentagon Papers to Watergate, leaks have revealed illegality and dishonestly long shielded by the government.”

    How does this even make sense? So it’s ok for the press to break the law as long as J.T. likes the outcome. Who gets to determine this line where rule of law is applied?

    1. Excellent reply.

      Strange how the inconsistent remarks seem to flow from a professor of law, unable, or, most likely, unwilling, to discern whether it is, in fact, a legal or an illegal maneuver transpiring before our eyes. It is when the so-called legal experts, so cautious as to not ruffle the feathers of those in the media, sit idly by as criminal activity occurs, refusing to condemn, denounce or, at the very least, question the legality of these actions, that we realize that there is no one to hold these individuals to account for what is most likely to be, a series of criminal conduct in both obtaining and disseminating said paperwork.

    2. “Who gets to determine this line where rule of law is applied?”

      That would be an excellent question for a legal blog. There must be one in the ABA BLAWG 100 that could provide the answer.

    3. Jim22 says: “So it’s ok for the press to break the law as long as J.T. likes the outcome.”

      Precisely! That is the leftist way. I could say this is hypocritical, but leftists never consider themselves to be hypocritical. They, in fact, argue that it’s axiomatic that a leftist can never by a hypocrite because leftists are always advancing their leftist agenda, and the rule for leftists is that as long as the leftist agenda is followed, anything goes. Hypocrisy is only something that non-leftists can be accused of.

    4. I agree with you. Mr. Turley WRONG about Maddcow’s and MSNBC making this return public. They are in clear violation of the LAW! I hope President Trump brings suit against this Liberal Lying FAKE News station and Maddcow winds up jobless.

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