NEWS

Donald Trump's 2005 Tax Return Revealed By Rachel Maddow Contains One Revealing Clue On Trump's Tax Plans

Did he release it himself?

15/03/2017 09:17 | Updated 15 March 2017

In a swirl of hype, teasing and sensationalism, American journalist Rachel Maddow last night revealed Donald Trump’s tax return for 2005.

After a series of tweets and an introduction so long it nearly sent some to sleep, the MSNBC host revealed...

 

Not that much actually.

No ties to Russia and no new information about his murky business dealings.

MSNBC
Donald Trump's 2005 tax return

Maddow spent 24 minutes building up the release resulting in her being scooped by The Daily Beast.

Trump earned about $153 million (£125 million) in income in 2005, and paid $38 million (£31 million) in taxes, giving him an effective tax rate of about 24%.

The scoop was so underwhelming that Trump’s team claimed it as a victory and the journalist who received the document - anonymously - even suggested the President himself could have leaked it.

But within the document is one clue to the direction the President is trying to take.

Of the $38 million he paid in tax, $31.3 million (£25.6 million) was due to what is called the alternative minimum tax (AMT), designed as a backup to regular income tax to prevent the rich paying next to no tax at all.

Without it Trump would have paid in total around $7 million (£5.7 million) in tax on the $153 million, a rate of just four percent.

Coincidentally - or not - the President has sought to abolish this very law

Trump’s campaign website called for the end of the AMT, which is expected to bring in more than $350 billion (£286 billion) in revenues from 2016 to 2025.

The AMT requires many taxpayers to calculate their taxes twice - once under the rules for regular income tax and then again under AMT - and then pay the higher amount.

Critics say the tax has ensnared more middle-class people than intended, raising what they owe the federal government each year.

But Lily Batchelder, a tax law professor at New York University, told The New York Times: “Trump’s return shows that he’s pushing tax changes that benefit multimillionaire heirs like him, not the middle class.

“His proposal to repeal the AMT would have slashed his own tax burden by $31 million, and his income tax rate would be lower than the average rate paid by families earning $75,000 to $100,000.”

The White House released a statement even before the release of Trump’s tax return, saying: 

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.

The statement was attributed to an anonymous official, despite the President’s continued criticism of anonymous sources used by media outlets.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Trump, seen above holding a card made by a child and given to him by an attendee of a healthcare meeting, is seeking to abolish a tax law which would prevent the rich from paying more tax

As a candidate and as president, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking a decades-long tradition.

Although he initially promised to do so, he later claimed he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and said his attorneys had advised against it - though experts and IRS officials said such audits don’t bar taxpayers from releasing their returns.

Here’s a look at the law - and the emerging controversy surrounding Trump’s tax returns courtesy of the Associated Press

FEDERAL LAW

Federal law makes it illegal to publish an unauthorised tax return or “return information.” According to federal statute, any violation of the law “shall be a felony punishable by a fine in any amount not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.”

That term “return information” not only applies to the amount of taxes paid, but also the amount of income, payments, receipts, deductions and other financial information that could be found on the forms.

But legal experts have said the way the returns were obtained matters.

If a media organisation did not conspire to steal the material or get it from the government but simply received it from a private citizen, criminal liability would be less clear.

Rachel Maddow said Tuesday that the return was mailed anonymously to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who said he received the document unsolicited. Johnston then speculated on the show that the documents could have been mailed from Trump, a known leaker of information, or his associates since they appeared to paint the president in a favorable light.

A stamp reading “Client Copy” is visible on one of the two pages sent to Johnston.

THE WHITE HOUSE TAKE

A White House official released a statement in the minutes before Maddow’s show aired, declaring “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.”

The statement goes on to declare that the returns were “illegally published” and then claims that it is “totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns.”

Trump, who is famously litigious, threatened lawsuits as recently as last October against women who came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment or misconduct, though he never followed through. It was not immediately clear if he would order a probe into the release of the 2005 returns.

MSNBC’S DEFENSE

Maddow, during her broadcast, declared the First Amendment allows journalists to publish tax returns. A similar defense was mounted by The Washington Post amid the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, a classified study of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. The Post argued that the publication of the sensitive documents served an important public interest.

Editors at The New York Times made a nearly identical argument in October when one of their reporters was mailed Trump’s 1995 returns. Dean Baquet, the paper’s editor, had said he would risk jail to publish the returns. After the publication, the paper printed a statement that read, “Nothing could be more central to the First Amendment than our right to publish, and the public’s right to know, important information about presidential candidates”.

Those 1995 returns showed that Trump took a $916 million loss that year - so big he could have avoided paying federal income tax for years to come.

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