WASHINGTON — One of the most closely guarded secrets in politics — Donald Trump’s income taxes — became a little bit less mysterious late Tuesday as prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston and MSNBC published a partial copy of the president’s 2005 federal filing. The two-page disclosure shed little light on the entrepreneur’s complex financial dealings, showing he paid about $38 million on income of roughly $150 million, an effective tax rate of 25 percent.
The documents, whose publication drew howls of outrage from the White House, did not include the most important financial data that might be collected from Trump’s full returns, including the sources of his income, his partners, to whom he paid interest, and other relationships that might feed concerns that he faces unprecedented conflicts of interest.
While the disclosure that the super-rich have mechanisms for reducing their tax burden was hardly explosive, the revelations were notable because of Trump’s ironclad refusal to release his returns. Throughout the 2016 campaign, the entrepreneur falsely implied that he could not release them because he was under audit.
The documents — just two pages of his filing — showed Trump would personally have paid about $5.3 million in federal taxes on income of over $150 million, after a write-down of about $103 million. But he paid another $31 million or so because of the alternative minimum tax — which he has proposed eliminating.
Johnston said the documents appeared in his mailbox at home, unsolicited. The pages posted by MSNBC were unsigned and stamped “Client Copy,” implying they may have been leaked by someone with access to Trump’s files — rather than the Internal Revenue Service.
In a statement released before the broadcast, the White House savaged the disclosure.
“Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” a White House official said. “That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.”
The publication of the return is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, but the person who provided the documents could be in legal jeopardy if he or she inappropriately obtained or released the filings.
Trump’s undisclosed tax returns have been a kind of holy grail of political reporting. Because the president and immediate family members have retained interests in his businesses, career ethics lawyers of both parties have warned of the potential for conflicts of interest. They have also said that the president is in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on receiving foreign payments while in office.
It was not the first time that Trump’s 2005 returns drew scrutiny.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March 2016 that Trump was able to deduct $39.1 million from his 2005 federal income taxes by promising not to build houses on a New Jersey golf course he owns.
In 2005, the top federal income-tax rate was 35 percent, so Mr. Trump could have shaved more than $14 million off his tax bill and claimed a state income-tax deduction.
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