Those who know Donald Trump and his way of “doing business” say privately that he probably approved mailing his copy of two pages of his 2005 tax return to a reporter this week.
It was, they say, a ploy to shift attention away from his split with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans over the House GOP Health Insurance proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare and other problems created by his own missteps.
“The 2007 return was picked because it was a rare time when he actually paid taxes and in an amount that is over the norm, and — by releasing just the two pages — avoided any information on where his money comes from, how much he contributes to charities, if anything, and other relevant information,” says a tax accountant familiar with Trump’s financial operations.
The tax return, mailed anonymously to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist David Day Johnston, was unveiled on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC Tuesday night and showed Trump reporting business losses of $103 million while paying $36.5 million in taxes, a rate of 24.5 percent, higher than the 10 percent average of most American taxpayers but below the 27.4 percent that taxpayers who earn $1 million or more are expected to pay.
Trump, of course, went on a Twitter tantrum early Wednesday, calling the leak of his returns illegal and questioned how Johnston obtained the return.
“Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mailbox’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!” Trump said in one of his tweets.
Johnston said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump, or one of his close aides, sent the return to him. “Donald has a long history of leaking things about himself,” Johnston says.
The $103 million loss was the last part of a total loss of $900 million that allowed Trump to avoid paying taxes since it became part of his tax filings in 1995. Trump’s tax bill, however, was part of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is used to prevent high-income taxpayers from paying only minimal taxes.
Without the AMT, Trump’s tax bill would have been far less and he has promised to put an end of the tax, which brings in more than $350 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
As Johnston and others have reported, Trump has often leaked information about himself or posed as a spokesman with a phony name to promote himself in the past.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Trump often used the phone to praise himself and his actions in calls to the media, claiming to be “John Barron” or “John Miller” or other names.
“For more than a decade – 1980 to 1991 — Trump used phony names to promote himself,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “I know from my work as Trump’s biographer.”
Others say Trump still uses the ruse when we can.
The missing information from Trump’s tax return is a tell-tale sign that points to him being behind the release of the abbreviated document. Johnston notes that the two pages sent to him excludes the real information on “who he’s beholden to.”
The White House verified the tax return as “real.” The copy sent to Johnston was stamped “Client Copy,” which normally means it was a copy provided to Trump as his copy of what was prepared by his tax advisors.
Unauthorized release or publishing of federal tax returns is a federal criminal offense which can bring a fine of $5,000 and up to five years in jail. Maddow argued on her show that MSNBC was exercising its First Amendment rights to release the information “in the public interest.”
Those close to Trump say he could have authorized release of the 2005 return to push news about his tangles with Republicans and other mistakes of his error-prone presidency off the front pages of newspapers and as leads in broadcast news report.
“Diversion is a tried and tested Trump tool when he comes under fire,” says a former employee of the Trump Organization. “He has used it successfully many times.”
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