Trump's 2005 Tax Return: What Did We Learn?

Last night, Rachel Maddow from MSNBC revealed two pages from President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return. They were leaked to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston who, according to Maddow, specializes in financial reporting. The forms reveal that Trump made roughly $150 million and paid $38 million in taxes.

Further investigation shows that Trump made $253 million, but wrote off $103 million as losses, which is where the final income number of $150 million came from. He paid $31 million in ‘alternative minimum tax’- something he wants to ban- and the rest of the amount was from payroll taxes. On the campaign trail, Trump claimed he was worth more than $10 billion, but a 2012 statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Wells Fargo Securities on behalf of Trump suggest he was then worth less than half.

When Johnston and Maddow posted on Twitter that they would be discussing Trump’s tax returns, the White House preemptively released a statement before the show aired.

“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.”

It’s a tricky situation. I think the invasion of privacy makes me cringe a bit. I mean, who wants their tax returns published? But unfortunately, as President of the United States, it’s come to be expected. The first amendment right Maddow uses to defend against the administration’s claim of illegal activity is pretty broad. Legal experts have said the way the returns were obtained matters. If a media organization did not conspire to steal the material or get it from the government but received it from a private citizen, criminal liability could be argued. I do agree to a certain extent that if there’s nothing to hide, then I don’t see the problem with their release. With Trump’s refusal to properly vacate his business dealings and therefore his conflicts of interest, I think the importance of seeing recent tax information has risen. Preliminary research has shown over 500 conflicts of interest, and how Trump could make himself unbelievably rich through the presidency. If that doesn’t piss you off, then go back to drinking that poisoned kool-aid.Previous reporting on Trump’s taxes was limited to a 1995 income tax return obtained by the New York Times showing that he declared a $916 million loss, allowing him to write off $50 million a year in taxable income for over 18 years. Trump broke precedent in 2016 by refusing to release his tax returns, a tradition followed by all presidential candidates for more than four decades. He claimed that he wasn’t releasing returns because he was under audit, even though there is no rule against releasing the information during an investigation. Of course, no one can forget Trump’s infamous comment from a September debate. When Hillary Clinton asked why Trump would not release his tax returns, theorizing that it was because he might not have paid income tax, Trump responded: “That makes me smart.”

I suppose. It’s rather disturbing to know that someone in public office, which is supported by and run using taxpayer dollars, is actively avoiding paying into that fund, though. The two papers Maddow showed last night demonstrated that Trump and his wife Melania paid just $5.3 million on regular federal income tax- less than 4%. If Trump follows through with eliminating the alternative minimum tax, that’s all he would pay. As Johnson said on the show last night, “If we didn’t have the alternative minimum tax, he would have paid taxes at a lower rate than the poor who make less than $33,000 a year.”

It stands in line with his campaign rhetoric though, where Trump proposed cutting taxes that would ultimately benefit the very wealthy the most, reducing the current seven tax brackets to four: 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%. Trump's tax reform plan is not expected to be brought up until after Congress completes its work on healthcare reform.

Truthfully, I think Maddow bought into classic Trump showmanship. People have been asking for Trump to release his tax returns for ages to no avail. Suddenly, tax return drops into the possession of Johnson. The two pages not only contain stamps saying “Client Copy,” but paint Trump in a favorable light. I find it rather suspect that the White House released a statement confirming the validity of the documents. This administration isn’t concerned with truth and facts, and their stern statement carries the air of trying to appear angry that the documents were released. As Gloria Borger from CNN voiced last night, “Is this a conspiracy too far to think that this was something he released himself?”

The biggest questions around Trump’s taxes- the sources of his income, the nature of his investments, and the deductions he’s claimed- still aren’t answered. But now no one is talking about Russia (or Comey’s related testimony from today), Obamacare/ the disastrous alternative, or the general chaos coming from the Trump administration. So what did we learn? Nothing we didn’t already know: Trump is trying to make as much profit for himself as possible, no matter who suffers. Unfortunately, 12 years later, it looks like it will be the American people.

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