The entire internet seemed to stop in place for 19 minutes as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow unveiled the scoop that she had obtained two pages of Donald Trump's 2005 tax return, but the "mysterious" source of the leak is not much of a mystery, not even to former Trump booster Joe Scarborough.
The entire media world seemed to grind to a halt when Rachel Maddow teased that "We've got Trump tax returns," and the suspense built further during the 19-minute tease at the start of her show. The story got a major boost from the Trump White House as well, which released a headline-grabbing statement effectively confirming the scoop in advance. By the time Maddow revealed the two pages of a 2005 tax return that were mysteriously mailed to investigative reporter and Trump bane David Cay Johnston, Johnston's website was crashing from all the attention.
That two-page document (clearly stamped "Client Copy") did very little to live up to the hype, instead showing that Trump paid 24% in taxes that year, far in excess of what has been suggested, and that he would have benefited greatly from a tax provision that he now supports. It was a publicity coup for Trump that he completed with a tweet:
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, "went to his mailbox" and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
If the beneficiary of the leak was still a mystery to anyone, this tweet from Donald Trump, Jr. helped to clearify:
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 15, 2017
To many, it was obvious that Trump was likely the source of this leak, coming as it did during the low point in his historically unpopular presidency, with much of the country in open revolt over the GOP plan to repeal Obamacare, and pressure mounting for an independent investigation of his Russia ties. It was so obvious that even David Cay Johnston broached the possibility, citing Trump's documented history of media self-dealing.
The ruse was so transparent that even former Trump booster Joe Scarborough saw through it, and through its purpose:
The Trump camp released one positive tax return to distract from Russia hearings and the Trumpcare meltdown. That's painfully obvious. https://t.co/NLBVPJhwg6
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) March 15, 2017
Scarborough was not the only prominent figure to immediately smell a rat:
Whoever has access to "client copy" of Trump's 2005 tax returns likely has access to others. So why only leak that year's. I smell a rat…
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 15, 2017
First question at White House briefing tomorrow: Did President Trump leak his own tax return?
— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) March 15, 2017
— Matthew Chapman (@fawfulfan) March 15, 2017
Given the NOL, it also looks like what you'd end up with if Trump said "leak my oldest tax return with a positive tax liability" https://t.co/61Nn5UtbBH
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) March 15, 2017
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 15, 2017
Almost as if somebody selected the single year and the precise 2 pages that would do Trump least harm- and found a way to release only those https://t.co/v0Cq8NfxfJ
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 15, 2017
As Maddow cannily detailed during that 19-minute tease, this cherry-picked leak should serve only to illustrate why all of Donald Trump's tax returns should be released. Because this particular trick was executed so clumsily and obviously, it may just backfire far enough to bring more attention to the returns he continues to hide.