Donald Trump broke from a more-than-40-year-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the American people, shocking the political world and leaving many to wonder what he may be hiding in those documents he has refused to share with the public. Despite petitions signed by millions of Americans and calls from representatives and senators to disclose his tax returns, Trump insisted that he would not do so. At one point, he had claimed that he would do so once the IRS was finished with its audit of his finances; however, once that was over, he still refused to release the information, indicating that it would likely never happen. Kellyanne Conway, after Trump secured the White House, said that the issue had been settled in the election, as voters appeared not to care about Trump’s taxes. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.
Then Rachel Maddow tweeted. “BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously).” This single message sent the Internet and the White House into a frenzy. The public waited anxiously for the bombshell that Maddow suggested she had. The White House went into damage-control mode, releasing an official statement on Trump’s taxes before the public would hear it from Maddow herself. "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," read the statement. Officials went on to explain that Trump had paid $38 million in taxes on an income of more than $150 million back in 2005. This turned out to be fairly accurate, as there is still debate as to whether the figure was $36.5 or $38 million depending on some particularities.
Maddow’s report, which was headline news for several hours, was far from a bombshell. She confirmed the White House’s report, for the most part. She spoke with the investigative journalist who uncovered the returns, David Cay Johnston. Johnston claimed that the returns may have been given to him by Trump associates in an attempt to release a limited amount of information that might quell some concerns over the lack of transparency from the White House on the matter but still not implicate Trump in any serious wrongdoing.
Maddow and Johnston acknowledged that the two-page report was limited in scope. One important finding was that most of the $38 million was provided through an Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT, which is designed to prevent wealthy businesses moguls from exploiting tax loopholes. While that would not be problematic on its own accord, the issue is that Trump has made promises to eliminate that tax provision as part of his sweeping tax reform, which would save him tens of millions of dollars each year. Maddow and Johnston discussed the fact that the important information, such as where his finances were coming from, to whom he was in debt, and how some of those connections could interfere with his administration, are yet to be revealed and will be substantially more important than this preliminary leak.
Trump and his family have responded to the debacle. Trump’s son tweeted that Maddow had merely confirmed just how wealthy his father is without actually implicating him in any sort of harmful activity. Trump, himself, denied Johnson’s account of how he mysteriously uncovered the returns. “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, "went to his mailbox" and found my tax returns? NBC News FAKE NEWS!”
While critical information on Trump’s financial situation will inevitably be uncovered in coming weeks and months, one thing remains clear: the media has a very, very powerful impact on this administration. All it took was a single tweet for the White House to release information it had been withholding for months. On the other hand, however, the fact that Maddow hyped up a fairly innocuous finding does give the media less credibility and slightly confirms Trump’s notion that the media is out to get him and will contrive stories that make him out to look like a villain, even in cases where he did not do anything wrong.
What do you think about this entire situation?