Did You Feel Let Down By Rachel Maddow’s Reveal of Trump’s Taxes? Well, Quit It

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Since early in his campaign, we’ve seen months and months of the press and regular Americans alike asking when Donald Trump would release his tax returns, and why he hasn’t done so yet. He’s the first president in decades not to release his tax history, and his claims that he can’t release them while under audit have been repeatedly refuted by the IRS. So it’s hard not to think that there is something big in those returns he wants to keep hidden.

So when Rachel Maddow announced last night that she had obtained an exclusive copy–the only copy, as far as we know–of Trump’s tax return, courtesy of investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, it was a BIG DEAL.

And yet, looking around, most people seem to have branded it a giant letdown. It’s being called a flub, a victory for Trump, and “overhyped.”

Of all the points missed here, that last one feels the most glaring. Maddow was criticized first and foremost for tweeting out an announcement of that night’s scoop.

The thinking seems to be that if she had something big, NBC should have aired it immediately. Some went so far as to say Maddow “trolled us all for ratings,” which I find baffling. If she had a piece of news she wanted exposed to the widest audience possible, why wouldn’t she announce it beforehand? And yes, of course she wants ratings. Television is a business. Is NBC expected not to care about drawing in an audience, to just quietly, humbly mumble the news into an empty abyss?

Beyond the “hype,” a lot of viewers were upset that their sky-high expectations weren’t met. We’ve been waiting so long to find out what Trump’s hiding in his tax returns, that it was natural, if misguided, to expect Maddow’s show to be a major take-down. Instead, what Johnston received anonymously was a two-page 1040 form from his 2005 return. And that, for many, was a major disappointment. Maddow announced the limited nature of the document before the show aired. She never claimed that she would be airing an exposé that would shatter Trump’s whole life, but that is, admittedly, what we want. It’s still unreasonable to slam Maddow for not having made all our dreams come true.

On top of all of that, Maddow was widely criticized for not getting to the actual document until after her opening 20-minute monologue. Especially since, by that point, the White House released a statement containing the information Maddow was set to reveal.

Many viewed this as Maddow getting scooped by the White House, which is ludicrous. Why not view it as what really happened: Rachel Maddow got the White House to finally release more information on Trump’s taxes than we’d seen up to this point. Even more, she essentially got them to confirm that this document is accurate! Johnston’s anonymous source–that mainstay of “fake news” as Trump keeps saying–was solid.

There does seem to be a missed connection between the White House’s confirmation and Trump’s denial, though.

Um, yes, we do. Because the White House just confirmed it.

(Side note: that reporter “who nobody ever heard of” is a Pulitzer Prize winner. So I’m guessing someone’s heard of him.)

The numbers in the tax return aren’t all that interesting. Maybe we were hoping they would be, but they’re not. But all those critics who were let down by the program already knew that. So the White House releasing them first isn’t stealing her thunder. Because there’s still so much there that is interesting, and incredibly important. And if those critics had listened to her “boring” opening segment, they would have heard her take 20 minutes to go over everything that is very much worth paying attention to.

For starters, as far as those numbers go, it is worth noting that while Trump paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million of income, if it weren’t for the “alternative minimum tax,” designed to keep corporations and wealthy taxpayers from finding loopholes and exemptions in their tax payments, Trump only would have paid a 4% tax rate. And wouldn’t you know it, Trump wants to get rid of the alternative minimum tax. It’s essential for us to know if is his tax policies are designed to benefit him, or his business ties and benefactors, more than the vast majority of American taxpayers.

Speaking of, we don’t know who those benefactors are. The 1040 form doesn’t list the sources of his income. That’s a huge omission, given Trump’s many potential conflicts of interest when it comes to being able to use policy to benefit his own businesses or business relationships.

Also, far more important than the numbers themselves is the fact that we don’t know who leaked the document, or why Trump hasn’t released it himself. Although Johnston pushes a theory that he did release it–that Trump himself leaked the information, as he has been reported to have done in the past.

Donald creates his own reality. He says things that aren’t true, he says things and then denies he said them. He lives in this world that isn’t the world where you and I live, of verifiable facts. So yes, I think I have to include that in the list of possibilities of where it came from.

Others agreed that this theory doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

I don’t know if Trump leaked his 1040, obviously. But it is an effective distraction, and as so many outlets have been reporting, it does, in a way, if you don’t look too closely, make him look good. If all you see is that $38 million and ignore all the other questions, then sure, case closed, Trump does pay his taxes. Take that, liberals!

But there is so much more to this story. And the biggest question is still why. Why has Trump kept these reports secret? Maddow started off the show by dismantling that audit claim. Because again, the IRS says an active audit doesn’t preclude him from releasing current tax returns. And it definitely doesn’t have any bearing on past returns. So why does Trump keep lying? As Maddow said,

It ought to give you pause that his explanations have never made any factual sense… When you get an excuse from them that doesn’t make sense, you have to look for another reason.

Maddow goes into some potential activities Trump could possibly be hiding, including a shockingly shady real estate deal with a Russian oligarch. (That bit starts around the 5:00 mark in the second video up there, and is 100% worth watching. Please watch it.)

The gist, though?

If there are inexplicable dumps of foreign money into the President’s coffers that cannot be explained in normal business terms, that’s potentially a huge problem for somebody who’s serving as President of the United States.

The interest in Trump’s tax returns is not a partisan thing. If people, if interests have inexplicably given him a lot of money in recent years, why did they do it? What do they want for that money now? Is the President in a position where we need to watch to make sure he is not paying off his past benefactors with our country’s resources, with U.S. policy, with decisions he can make as President? That’s part of why we need to see his tax returns.

Trump can release his tax returns at any time. The release of this document proves that. And he needs to release them, to clear up any suspicion around those questions Maddow just asked. This isn’t just the press who cares, this isn’t just liberals who care. Why would Trump not release this information, unless he doesn’t want the American people to know the answers to those questions.

But sure, let’s ignore all of that because the news was too hyped or talky or whatever.

(featured image via YouTube)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.