MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow lit the internet on fire Tuesday evening when she tweeted that The Rachel Maddow Show had exclusively procured a portion of President Donald Trump’s 2005 federal tax return and that she’d reveal its contents at 9 p.m. EST.
Minutes later, the White House took a preemptive strike by releasing a statement to negate Maddow’s scoop, shedding light on Trump’s taxes for the first time ever. Of course, Trump became the first presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns since Watergate, citing that he couldn’t because they were under audit.
In an official release, the White House stated that the president had paid $38 million in taxes on an income of $150 million, roughly 24 percent of his income, adding that the figure was “after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction.” The White House added that the $38 million doesn’t take into account “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes.”
Going for the jugular, the White House said Maddow’s report on Trump’s 2005 1040 was not only “illegal,” but proved how “desperate for ratings” Maddow is. (According to the Hollywood Reporter, Maddow averages more than two and half million viewers and last week, she beat Bill O'Reilly’s show on Fox in ratings.) Maddow fired back by stating that the First Amendment protects publishing tax returns.
With the White House’s statement out in the open, Maddow began by stating that she received the return via David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist, who himself received the taxes in his mailbox on Monday. “This document has been made available, it has been handed to a reporter. That may be the most important part of the story,” she said.
Maddow then explained why his tax returns should remain of interest to all Americans. “If there are inexplicable dumps of foreign money dumped into the president’s coffers, that’s potentially a huge problem for someone serving as president of United States,” she said. “The people of the U.S. need to know if you have unexplained sources of income, particularly of foreign origin…There’s worry that this president might be financially beholden to another country. That’s why presidents release their tax returns. That’s why somebody decided to leak a portion of his 2005 tax return.”
Maddow’s big reveal ended up confirming the White House’s statement: in 2005, Trump took a $103 million write down, made more than $150 million that year, paid $38 million in tax. Johnston then attempted to give Americans a lesson in the alternative minimum tax, stating that because of the ATM, Trump paid 24 percent in taxes; without it, he would have only paid about four percent. The ATM is a supplemental income tax enacted in 1979 to prevent the rich from paying less than their fair share of taxes by making them calculate their liabilities under two systems. They are then required to pay the higher amount.
In the end, though, Maddow and her guests focused too much on conjecture, which doesn’t work in 2017, and certainly not against a Trump presidency, even if the man himself likes to wield it against his foes. While she did come out strong early by outlining Trump’s suspicious ties to a Russian oligarch as well as a family connected to the Iranian Revolution, many believed Maddow’s sell, expertly teased on social media an hour prior, was well, oversold. Of course, Maddow couldn’t haved predicted that the White House would be so quick to counter her scoop with their own—and we should definitely applaud her for having gotten Trump to act on something he’s long deemed unimportant. Remember: tonight, a journalist posed a very real threat to the White House.
Despite her good journalism, Maddow spent too much time asking too many questions, and it overshadowed her noble efforts. The good news is that considering the strange way Johnston received this tax return, one can only imagine where this story will go next. It certainly isn’t dying anytime soon. As Maddow herself said, the fact that it was leaked might be the bigger story. For now, though, given the hype leading into the hour and Trump’s quick offensive attack, tonight’s broadcast felt more like a pebble being thrown against the White House than a wrecking ball being taken to it’s pillars. It certainly wasn’t what many tuned in hoping to see.