White House releases Trump tax info ahead of TV report

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House has confirmed the accuracy of two leaked documents showing President Donald Trump's 2005 tax return.

The documents were revealed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on her show Tuesday night. The records were first received by journalist David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner, who said the tax returns were sent to him unsolicited in the mail.

Based on the documents obtained by Johnston, Trump paid $36.5 million in taxes on $153 million in income, for an effective tax rate of around 24 percent. That percentage is higher than the roughly 10 percent the average American pays each year -- but below the 27.4 percent that taxpayers earning $1 million a year average, according to data from the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

The White House responded with a statement prior to the MSNBC show Tuesday that President Donald Trump made more than $150 million in income in 2005 and paid $38 million in income taxes that year. The statement condemned the leak.

"It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans," the White House statement read.

Critics say Mr. Trump should release all of his tax returns to prove that the Trump business has no ties to foreign entities that could create a conflict of interest with his presidential obligations.

"The greater concern that this president might be financially beholden to an individual, to an institution, to a country," Maddow said Tuesday night, "We can't know any of this if we don't see his tax returns. That's why presidents release their tax returns."

University of San Francisco Political Science Professor James Taylor says the leaked documents contain no smoking gun about whether President Trump has evaded taxes or has connections with Russia or other foreign countries, but they do raise questions for both sides about high-level leaks and whether there might be more damaging information in the other returns.

"The question is now, what happens after this? Do we get a slow drip of 2006, 2007, 2008, up to 2015 where there is an actual tax audit?" Taylor said.

Critics say the 2005 tax documents also raise questions about Mr. Trump's call to eliminate the alternative minimum tax.

The leaked documents show Mr. Trump's tax bracket at about 24%, but had the alternative minimum tax been eliminated, he would have benefited with a tax rate closer to 3.5%.

The AMT was established nearly five decades ago to prevent the wealthy from using deductions and clever accounting to largely avoid paying taxes.

"The constituencies that want to find culpability and guilt and some sort of untoward activity in the tax returns will find it. And for those who think they reveal that Donald Trump's hands are clean in terms of the Russian connection...they'll find that," said Professor Taylor, "Until we find a prosecutor who comes out and says here's the evidence, everything else is just talk."
 
The tax documents have become highly sought-after because as a candidate and as President, Mr. Trump has refused to release his returns, despite a tradition dating back to President Richard Nixon's tax controversy. President Trump has claimed he was advised by attorneys not to release his tax returns because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. Experts and IRS officials said such audits don't bar taxpayers from releasing their returns.

Trump long insisted the American public wasn't interested in his returns and said little could be learned from them. But Trump's full returns would contain key details about things like his charitable giving, his income sources, the type of deductions he claimed, how much he earned from his assets and what strategies Trump used to reduce his tax bill.

The unauthorized release or publishing of federal tax returns is a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in jail. But Maddow argued that MSNBC was exercising its First Amendment right to publish information in the public interest.

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