Donald Trump's tax returns: What do we now know, and what do we not know?

Though Maddow's scoop was downplayed, her reporting opened up a few questions

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 15, 2017 11:30AM (EDT)

Rachel Maddow (Credit: MSNBC)
Rachel Maddow (Credit: MSNBC)

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow released President Donald Trump's tax returns Tuesday night, delivering something — although not the political bombshell spectators were expecting.

"The two pages show tax information one would expect for someone with Trump’s wealth and businesses," writes Matt Ford of The Atlantic. "He paid roughly $5.3 million under regular federal income tax guidelines — a pittance for someone with his reported fortune — but also paid $31 million in what’s known as the “alternative minimum tax,” bringing his federal payment that year to about 25 percent of his income."

After observing that an elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which Trump proposed during his campaign, would have lowered his effective tax rate in 2005 from 25 percent to 4 percent, Ford adds that "the form released on Tuesday shows more than $103 million in deductible losses, perhaps including the $14.6 million portion of that easement that could have been deducted that year, or losses reported on his 1995 forms and carried forward. It also shows that Trump checked the box for $3 of his taxes to be funneled into the presidential election campaign fund — in a year when fewer than one in 10 filers did the same."

While these observations certainly provide insights into how the super-rich like Trump avoid paying their fair share in taxes, they were hardly original insights and did not shed any light on the potential conflicts of interest that observers (Maddow included) have speculated could explain why the president refuses to disclose them. This has caused many to criticize Maddow's scoop as much ado about nothing, from Willa Paskin of Slate describing it as "a cautionary tale about over-hype" and Derek Hawkins of The Washington Post speculating that "Trump seemed to make it through the segment in pretty good shape — so good that a cyberspace chorus wondered for hours after the fact: Did Trump leak his own tax return?"

That latter theory was shared by David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who provided Maddow with the documents. "It’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me. It’s a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction," Johnston stated. The fact that the 1040 was labeled "Client Copy" has been cited as lending credence to this hypothesis.

Another piece of evidence supporting that theory (or perhaps contradicting it) is that President Trump himself sent out a tweet denouncing the 2005 1040 form as "fake news."

The White House itself confirmed the authenticity of the leaks.

"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," said the White House's statement.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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1040 Donald Trump Rachel Maddow Tax Returns