Rachel Maddow revealed portions of a 2005 tax return from President Trump on Tuesday, in a moment that drew much of the political world’s attention and anticipation, but still left lingering questions.
The two pages of the return showed that Trump and his wife Melania paid $5.3 million in income taxes and $31 million in the “alternative minimum tax” on income of more than $150 million. It included a $105 million writedown on losses.
The two pages of the return actually were first published on David Cay Johnston’s DCReport.org before they were revealed on Maddow’s show. Johnston, a veteran investigative reporter, obtained the tax returns when they showed up in his mailbox, he said. He then brought the story to Maddow’s show.
“This describes the types of income, but not the sources,” Johnston said on Maddow’s show.
The revelation was expected to give Maddow’s show a ratings spike, after she already has enjoyed higher viewership since Trump took office. But given the buildup in the hour or so before the Tuesday broadcast, her scoop was a bit overhyped.
Maddow herself opened her show suggesting that that the documents they had were just a start to perhaps more revelations later, and she devoted the opening segment of her show to running through many of the stories she has featured in recent weeks, including Trump and his associates ties to Russian officials.
The information from the 2005 returns contained no such revelation. The White House, aware that the report was coming, even disclosed figures from the documents about a half-hour before Maddow’s show started.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
Maddow, however, said that “for the record, the First Amendment gives us the right to publish the return.”
The bigger intrigue may be in who leaked the two pages, which were labeled “client copy.” Johnston didn’t discount that Trump, or one of his associates, may have leaked the documents.
“It could have been leaked by someone in his own direction,” he said, as Twitter ran the gamut of theories that Trump may be intent on distracting from the negative attention to Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
For their part, rival CNN reported on the revelation of Trump’s tax returns, but it was only one story among others on Tuesday evening, including a report that the proposed healthcare bill was in for some revisions.
Trump declined to release his tax returns during the presidential campaign, breaking with the precedent extending to the early 1970s in which presidential nominees disclose those forms. Rivals tried to make an issue out of it during debates, but Trump claimed that he could not disclose them because he was under audit.