I don't get the sense that the release of what was called "Donald Trump's tax returns for 2005" is quite as big a deal as the attention it's getting. After all, it's just a two-page Form 1040. It gives a few figures from which a bit of information can be gleaned, but it doesn't include any of the many additional Schedules and Forms, which are what would have all the specific detail about his income and deductions, like where the income came from, what it was, and any deductions that were taken.
But it's not without meaning. Not the least of which is the reality of if this form surfaced, then others could. But then, where did this form come from, and who leaked it to the always-wonderful David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning tax journalist, formerly of the NY Times who now has his own website, DCReport?
One possible source that Johnston mentioned is, oddly, Trump himself. As he explained, Trump has a long history of leaking information about himself when it's been beneficial to him. Trump has even leaked information in the past to Johnston. Indeed, the DNC released a statement on Tuesday in which they don't even suggest the leak could possibly have been Trump but say it specifically is.
“The White House’s willingness to release some tax information when it suits them proves Donald Trump's audit excuse is a sham," the statement said. "If they can release some of his information, they can release all of the information. The only reason not to release his returns is to hide what’s in them such as financial connections with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin.”
And the more I've thought about the mysterious release of just two, very-basic pages, the more I tend to think that the leak was indeed Trump himself, or someone at his behest.
If someone has Donald Trump's 1040 Tax Form, it seems likely that they have the full tax return. (Why would someone only have these two pages, after all?) And if you have everything, then why only leak just two pages? And not just two pages, but the two pages that are pretty surface, don't explain much and at best show Trump in a favorable light that he paid a lot in income taxes.
(The tax payment is not that favorable a light. Yes, it's a great deal of money -- and yes, it shows that he didn't pay zero taxes, a figure that he himself suggested, "Because I'm smart," in a debate -- but a) this is only a return from one year, and b) it's only a 20% tax rate, the same rate as would be paid by a married couple making $400,000 a year. And Trump that year made over $400,000 a day. To be clear, without any details it appears to be a perfectly legal amount to pay, and if so, one should take all legal deductions available. But the point is that the figure is not as impressive as it seems on the surface, once you look further, given the high income.)
Further, not only does this leak allow Trump to have bragging rights for showing he had income of around $145 million, and show that he paid $36 million in taxes, rather than zero -- but it becomes another topic for national discussion, and therefore a distraction for his bizarre wiretapping charge, the firing of 46 U.S. Attorneys (most significantly Preet Bharara in New York, the Trump organization's home turf, who Trump had previous said he'd keep), and Russian-tie allegations, investigations, and FBI Director James Comey's upcoming Senate appearance. All the while not really telling us all that much about what's actually important in his tax report.
Moreover, another indication that points to Trump as the leaker is that in the childish, smarmy and false statement put out by the White House, they confirmed the information in the Form 1040, used it to praise Trump's success as a businessman, highlight that he paid $36 million in income taxes (which they boosted by $2 million, stating the figure as $38 million by improperly including payroll taxes), and slammed the "dishonest press" for printing it. Yet not once, however, did they even mention a complaint or anything about who leaked it. Or call for an investigation of the leak. Something Trump has called for in previous leaks.
In fact, Donald Trump Jr. himself -- rather than being outraged at the leak -- sent out a couple of joyful tweets about the Form 1040 being leaked, doing his best to ridicule Rachel Maddow for her report that he said helped prove how successful his father is and that he paid $40 million in taxes. (For the sake of accuracy, it was $36 million.)
For that matter -- 12 years ago?? A tax return from 2005? How unlikely that someone other than Trump would not just have but keep a Form 1040 from a decade ago. That by itself is hardly substantive, but with all the other pieces of the pie, it just builds on top of everything else. Including the probability that such an out-of-the-blue, distant, singular year was leaked because it had more income and more paid-taxes.
Who knows? Maybe it's someone else entirely who leaked the two-page 1040 Form. But from all I see, it looks as if the most likely person is Trump himself.
And contrary to that petulant and false statement put out by the White House, it is not even remotely illegal for the press to print the tax report. That pesky First Amendment always seems to crop up. A journalist can't solicit this information and then publish it, but if it comes to a report on its own -- as this did -- then it's totally fair game to be printed.
And if Trump leaked it himself, that's exactly what he wanted.
And the questions of loans, investments, debts and more remain.
Indeed, the biggest question lingers above all: because every president since Richard Nixon has released his tax returns -- why hasn't Donald Trump? After all, it's not illegal to release one's tax returns when under audit -- the IRS has said so, and Nixon himself did it. And we know from the Trump campaign that he is not under audit for years before 1998, so he could release any or all of those. Yet he hasn't. And we don't even have any evidence that Trump even is under audit. He's been asked to release the letter from the IRS that would have called for the audit, and he hasn't provided that. So -- why hasn't Trump released any tax returns??
David Cay Johnston said he has been writing about taxes for 50 years, since his teens. And in all that time, he says, whenever someone doesn't want to release their tax returns, there is always a reason, and it's because there's something not good they don't want revealed.
And so the rest of Trump's taxes for 2005 have not been revealed. Only that which is most self-serving to Trump. Only that he paid a lot of taxes, not zero -- that particular year. But then, no one serious has ever charged that Trump paid zero taxes, it was at best only one guess of one reason out of many reasons why maybe Trump wasn't releasing his taxes. The real suspicions were and remain hiding his ties to Russia, China, and criminals; who he owes money to; and that he wasn't as wealthy as he wants people to think.
All of which is why I suspect that he is the source.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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