Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trump's taxes do reveal something- why we need the AMT

I was among those who tuned into Rachel Maddow last night to watch her discuss a leaked document that showed the topline numbers of Donald Trump's 2005 federal income tax return, and the Trump campaign admitted the documents were legit in a tweet that came out after Maddow revealed she had the tax documents, but before she took the air. I was sort of going to shrug, but then I saw David Cay Johnston was the guy who received the leaked document, and after reading Johnston's 2007 book Free Lunch last week, I had to tune in, because that guy knows his stuff when it comes to corporate crookedness.

As is her style, Rachel spent the first 20 minutes of the show laying out why the public needs to see the tax returns of presidents, going over Trump's numerous connections to sketchy foreign interests, and to find out if there's a potential conflict of interest in his decisions, and connecting it back to prior evasions by Trump. Only around 8:20 did she put Johnston on and give the numbers behind the 2005 front-page of the Trump taxes, and Johnston quickly pointed out that Trump may have been the one who dropped this information off with him, because the document showed that Trump actually did pay quite a bit of taxes on a lot of income in 2005.

But Johnston noted that Trump in 2005 paid $36.5 million in federal income taxes only because he fell under the Alternative Minimum Tax, otherwise Trump would have paid less than 4% in 2005. The AMT talk starts around 5:45 in this segment, and if you're a tax/budget geek like me, it's very interesting.

And as Johnston and the New York Times note, guess what Donald Trump and other GOPs like Paul Ryan want to get rid of as part of "tax reform?" THE AMT!
Nothing in the two pages produced on Tuesday night suggested any ties with Russia. Nor did they provide much information about his businesses that was not previously known. But they showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish.

That tax serves as a backstop to the ordinary income tax and is intended to prevent wealthy Americans from paying no income tax at all. Without it, Mr. Trump would have paid about $5 million in regular taxes, plus nearly $2 million in self-employment taxes, on $153 million in income in 2005.
And that's another reason why we need to know about Trump's taxes, because we should know if Trump is supporting certain tax and spending policies solely because it would allow him to pocket millions of dollars. That's not even going into specific contracts that could enrich Trump, his family, or those he might owe money/favors to.

And those sort of details were missing from the 11-year-old Trump tax document, because it only showed the totals and topline figures. Those of you that have recently filed taxes may recall the many schedules and other information that would include the SOURCES of royalties and business income , who Trump may have owed interest to, and what transaction his $103 million in reported 2005 losses may have been coming from. This is why the NY Times' statement about "no ties to Russia" is ridiculous- there's nothing in those two pages that says who Trump got paid from or who he paid funds to. That's why we need the details.

While the Trump tax return story wasn't exactly an administration-ender last night, and frankly was way overplayed by MSNBC (it didn't require 90 minutes of special coverage in a time when health care and Russia/China's connections to Trump and his family are bigger issues). But as Maddow pointed out, "if we can get this year of taxes, people can get other years of taxes," and those more recent years are likely to have the REALLY good stuff, especially as the economy collapsed in the late 2000s. And it proved that the Trump Administration was lying when they said their taxes couldn't be released to the public and that they were being held under audit, because they sure were forthcoming when Maddow tweeted out that she had the tax return.

So let's not go all-in on a Trump tax issue that right now is a mere contributor to the bigger issue of Trump corruption and incompetence. The Trump tax return actually is a good card to play when the president*'s budget comes out and is debated through Congress, because Trump's return is proving exactly why we need an AMT, and why the rich aren't in need of even more breaks and advantages than they already receive.

Besides, it might work better to hold these pieces back and only play them as we complete the puzzle, instead of throwing them out in isolation where it becomes easier for the right-wing noise machine to diminish its significance, as well as the larger story that shows the real danger. I want this bum gone as much as the next guy with an IQ over 80, but Maddow and company need to make sure they don't build things up too much and fail to come through, because then the dimwitted citizenry will turn off, and delay the reaching of crucial mass that we need when the real major scandals that are happening in DC blows sky-high.


  1. I thought Maddow's show itself was very good - she was especially clear about what we didn't have and why it was important. Would have appreciated a longer interview with Johnston - her audience already understands why we need Trump's returns.

    Agreed that they definitely overplayed their hand on the hype.

    Interesting guy Johnston - going to start reading him. Thanks for referencing his book.

    1. There are other segments later in the show with Johnston and Chris Hayes going into this more (they basically used all of Rachel's hour to go over this), and you get some cool info from Johnston about how the president's taxes are put into some kind of special vault for preservation.

      I saw Bill Maher ripping on Maddow for going overboard on this, and also hinting that Trump probably leaked the taxes as a diversionary/damage control tactic. It certainly seems better to save this bit of ammo for later, especially in light of Trump's absurd budget proposal.