In case you haven’t heard of her, Rachel Maddow is the host of a US television news show, and a huge favourite of the American liberal-left. More than an hour before her show last night, Maddow hyped that she had a bombshell to announce. She tweeted: ‘BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously).’ Her excited followers sought to drum up more viewers, among them Michael Moore, who urgently tweeted: ‘Turn on Rachel @maddow!’ MSNBC broke with the norm and ran a countdown clock until the show started.
Donald Trump’s tax returns would be big news for many. From the election campaign to today, Trump’s opponents have called on him to make public his tax filings. Although there is no legal requirement for politicians to release tax returns, for decades it has been customary for presidential candidates to do so. Lots of speculation has swirled around Trump’s unwillingness to publish his tax affairs, with the implication being that this billionaire is hiding something unfavourable, if not crooked (he says he won’t release his returns because the tax authorities are auditing him).
When viewers tuned in at 9pm, Maddow didn’t reveal her ‘scoop’ right away. Instead she embarked on a sprawling, innuendo-filled, conspiratorial monologue that went on for 20 minutes, and included references to Trump, Russian oligarchs and Deutsche Bank, among others. Here is a flavour of Maddow’s breathless build-up:
‘If this wasn’t just some Russian oligarch dumping almost $60million into Donald Trump’s pocket for no discernible reason, couldn’t Trump’s tax returns clear that up? Wouldn’t Trump’s taxes show whatever reasonable real estate inflow and outflow might explain what otherwise really does look like a bizarre dump of tens of millions of dollars of Russian money into Donald Trump’s coffers? Right at a time when Donald Trump owed tens of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank was breathing down his neck to get it. That Russian oligarch who spent all that money on that property and never moved into it and ultimately tore it down – he’s also a large shareholder in a bank called the Bank of Cyprus which has been implicated in Russian money laundering. The chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is the former CEO of Deutsche Bank to which Donald Trump owed all that money at the time he conveniently got this very large influx of cash from a Russian guy. The vice chairman of that bank until recently was our new secretary of commerce, long time Trump friend Wilbur Ross.’
Phew! After all this, viewers were on the edge of their seats, ready to learn what was in Trump’s tax returns, a revelation that would surely connect all of Maddow’s dots and begin Trump’s downfall. But no. All Maddow had was a 2005 two-page summary (form 1040), which revealed that Trump earned $150million, and paid $38million in taxes, in that year. It was totally lame, and instantly deflated her overexcited audience. No evidence of zero taxes paid, as some (including Hillary Clinton and the New York Times) had speculated; no ties with dodgy businesspeople, as others had predicted. A nothingburger, as they say.