White House confirms Trump income tax numbers as MSNBC airs returns | News | DW | 15.03.2017
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White House confirms Trump income tax numbers as MSNBC airs returns

The White House has confirmed President Donald Trump paid $38 million in tax in 2005. The statement also lambasted the media for the "illegally published" tax documents.

President Trump's income in 2005 totaled more than $150 million (142 million euros), the White House said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

The statement also said that as head of the Trump Organization, the real estate mogul had an obligation "to pay no more tax than legally required."

The White House released its statement shortly after MSNBC presenter Rachel Maddow announced on Twitter she had obtained copies of Trump's tax returns and was planning to report on them during her evening show. 

The White House verified the authenticity of the tax documents in Maddow's possession but did not release any documents with its statement. 

According to the 2005 return, Trump also took a tax write-down valuing around $100 million, reducing his federally taxable income and giving him an effective tax rate of 25 percent for the year.

Tax revelations on TV

Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnson received the two pages of Trump's 2005 returns in the mail from an anonymous source. He appeared on the Rachel Maddow show on Tuesday evening to discuss the documents and speculate on who might have sent them, including possibly Trump himself.

The White House's statement took aim at the network's decision to publish the returns.

"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," they wrote. In a continuation of the administration's attacks against the media, they highlighted the "illegally published" return.

"It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda," the statement said.

Those who publish or release federal income tax returns without authorization can face up to five years in jail and a fine up to $5,000. Maddow argued that MSNBC making information in the public interest available as outlined and protected by the First Amendment.

The Trump tax mystery

Trump has refused to publish his tax returns, claiming he has been under audit by the IRS and has been advised not to make his tax payments public. However, no legal requirement exists barring individuals under audit from releasing their returns.

IRS-Zentrale in Washington D.C. (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. D. Ake)

Trump has used an IRS audit as an argument against publishing his tax returns.

Investigations by the New York Times last fall showed that Trump used a gigantic loss in 1995 to avoid paying income taxes for numerous years thereafter.

Presidential candidates and sitting presidents have traditionally published their income tax returns. Critics have argued that Trump's persistent denial to make his returns public indicates he has something to hide.

Throughout his candidacy and into his presidency, Trump has maintained the American public has no interest in his taxes. But over one million people have signed a petition requesting him to make his returns public.

The White House did not say whether Trump now has plans to make his returns public during his tenure in the Oval Office. It also did not comment on whether Trump would allow the IRS to audit his returns automatically once submitted on April 15, an established practice for sitting presidents, or whether he would seek to circumvent this requirement. 

Tax reform in his favor?

Trump's 2005 returns show the effect of Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a measure of tax liability that hinders using deductions and accounting methods to reduce tax burdens for the wealthy. Taxpayers must calculate their income twice under two separate methods and pay taxes on the higher of the two resulting amounts. 

Without the AMT, Trump's effective tax rate would have been only 3.5 percent rather than the 25 percent his 2005 returns revealed. 

Trump argued in favor of eliminating the AMT on his campaign website.

When Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton criticized Trump during the campaign for not paying federal taxes, Trump responded "that makes me smart." 

cmb/bw (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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