By Ara Daglian
March 14, 2017, at about 5pm, I saw something retweeted on my twitter feed. The original tweet was from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “ B R E A K I N G : We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC ( S e r i o u s l y ) . ”
I was extremely excited. President Donald Trump is the first president in four decades to not release his tax returns. Like many Americans, I’ve wanted to see the coveted tax returns since the beginning of the election. Using a (possibly made-up) IRS audit as an excuse to not release them, and then a later claim that no one cared, had many people interested in what could be within. Whether he was dodging millions in taxes or getting money from unsavory sources, it seemed very clear that he was hiding something. So around 9pm I turned on my TV and flipped to MSNBC–something I never do–and watched the report. Someone had delivered a copy of Donald Trump’s form 1040 from filing year 2005 to the mailbox of David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and tax expert who has reported extensively on Donald Trump over the past two decades. The 1040 was pretty clear: in 2005, Donald Trump paid $38,435,451 in taxes on an income of $152,737,866, or 25.16%. Unfortunately, the 1040 was all that was leaked. None of the other forms that specified where the income had come from, or whether or not Trump owed money, and to whom, were included in the leak. Just a single form that seemed to vindicate Trump of accusations of tax-dodging. The White House responded promptly, confirming the numbers and adding that Trump was a successful businessman who paid his taxes.
I felt extremely let down by the report. Very little was learned, and the leak seemed to only benefit Trump against critics. Something didn’t quite add up, however. At the end of the 1040 there was stamped mark: CLIENT COPY. Client copies of tax forms are not held by the IRS, but rather by the individual taxpayer. This means that whoever leaked the 1040 did not do some from within the IRS. In other words, only someone with access to the client copy could have leaked this document.
The client is, of course, President Donald Trump. While it is possible that anyone with access to the document could have leaked it, I’m going to assume that very few people do. So, is it possible that Donald Trump leaked his own tax return to David Cay Johnston? Certainly, he obviously has the means. But why would he?
The answer is obvious: it makes him look good while making others look bad. With one leak he proves that he is an honest, tax-paying man in addition to embarrassing those who have called that image into question.
It also needs to be noted that Trump has a history of leaking stories about himself. Throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s Trump would often make calls to tabloids and other media outlets posing as his own PR or as someone with a juicy scoop on the realestate mogul. These tips always cast him in a favorable light.
So while the theory that he leaked his own tax returns is baseless, it’s not out of the question. But why 2005? A possible answer that would further point to Trump being the source of the leaks is that 2005 might have been the only year that he actually paid taxes.
Bear with me; this is where it gets really conspiratorial. First Lady Melania Trump, then Melanija Knavs, entered the United States in 1996. She met Donald Trump in 1998, and at some point in 1998 or 1999 the two began dating. In 2001 she became a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In 2004 she and Trump were engaged, and on January 22, 2005, the two were married. In 2006 she gained United States citizenship.
Nothing odd there, but the application for U.S. naturalization (form N-400) contains a checklist of documents (form M-477) required to apply for citizenship on the basis of marriage to an American citizen. Under “documents referring to you and your spouse” it asks for IRS tax return transcripts from the last three years. The first two years of returns were filed singly, but we know from the 2005 1040 that Mr. and Mrs. Trump filed jointly. Melania Trump’s citizenship depended on a squeaky-clean tax return in 2005. This would explain why, assuming Trump did leak the 1040, he leaked the one from 2005. It was the only year he had to pay taxes.
Of course, this is all conjecture. However, it caught my interest and I had to do some digging on my own and pull together some facts and theories. The question remains, though: did Donald Trump leak the 1040? As I stated above, it’s possible, but hard if not impossible to prove. I’ll let everyone decide for themselves. Maybe more information will come to light in the future, but we can’t know for sure until it happens.