Donald Trump tax return

Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA) Remix by Jason Reed

Why some people think Trump leaked his own tax return

The 'non-story' of Trump's 2005 tax return sparks a new round of questions.


David Gilmour


Posted on Mar 15, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 8:43 pm CDT

In a Twitter outburst on Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump declared the leaked 2005 tax returns featured on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on Tuesday evening to be “fake news.”

Trump has been under pressure to publish his tax returns, a gesture of transparency performed by every major party presidential candidate since 1976. Although he is under no legal obligation to do this, Trump had promised regularly he would while on the campaign trail. So when Maddow teased for an hour that her show would exclusively feature Trump’s tax returns, it provoked a pre-emptive statement from the White House, which described the MSNBC host “desperate for ratings,” adding that it was “totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.”

Following a 20-minute long introduction, in which the host underlined the First Amendment case for making the tax return public, Maddow and Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston examined the 2005 tax return document.

Their discussion revealed that Trump had paid quite a low federal tax rate at the time—about 4 percent, plus an additional $31 million in another type of tax—despite a total income of $150 million. In total, Trump’s federal tax rate for 2005 came out to about 25 percent—a number that most middle-class Americans would find reasonable, perhaps even higher than expected. Besides the fact that Trump wrote off $100 million in losses, bringing his taxable income for the year down to under $50 million, the documents offer little detail—and nothing particularly damning.

Maddow also revealed how Trump’s 13-year-old tax summary had appeared in Johnston’s mailbox. Reflecting on this odd and seemingly random circumstance, the journalist suggested that the president himself may have leaked the documents.

“By the way, let me point out that it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things,” he told Maddow.

This theory was further picked up by mainstream media journalists, like NBC’s Joe Scarborough, who tweeted that Trump may have “cherry picked” the tax return because it was old.

Curiously, the second page of the return leaked to Johnston is stamped ‘Client Copy,’ fuelling the notion that the document may well be the president’s personal copy.

A similar situation arose in September when Trump’s 1995 tax returns conveniently appeared in the mailbox of New York Times reporter Susanne Craig. The Times executive editor Dean Baquet said that he would risk jail time to publish any returns.

Speculation around the timing of the tax return leak has led to claims that Trump may be hoping to distract from the ongoing political dispute over healthcare. Still, while authenticating the tax return, the White House has declared the media to be “dishonest” in its reporting of it.

“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,” a White House spokeswoman told the Daily Dot.

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*First Published: Mar 15, 2017, 8:35 am CDT