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  • 03.15.17

Why Would President Trump Leak His Own Tax Return?

Here are five reasons, and there are probably more.

Why Would President Trump Leak His Own Tax Return?
Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Last night’s overhyped reveal of President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax returns last night on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show raised more questions than it answered. Sure, we now know that he paid $38 million in taxes on earnings of $153 million that year. But overall it was not at all embarrassing for the president, and it didn’t expose any of his potential ties to Russia, or even who he’s been doing business with over the years. But the documents did raise a much more important question: Who leaked those two pages to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston?

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“It’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me,” Johnston said during the Maddow interview. “It’s a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction.” A stamp on the tax documents that reads “client copy” only adds to the intrigue—it could only have come from someone close to him, and not the IRS.

That begs the question: Why would President Trump want to leak his own taxes? And why now? Here are a few reasons.

1. It diverts attention from a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today in which FBI Director James Comey could confirm that there’s an active probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

2. It gets everyone to stop talking about the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 24 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade, as a result of the House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

3. It reduces the impact of any future revelations about Trump’s taxes. Without a clear indication that he received money from a disreputable source, the next tax leak is likely to be met with skepticism.

4. It’s another way for Trump to paint the liberal-leaning mainstream media as having a grudge against him for no good reason. As Trump tweeted earlier this morning: “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, “went to his mailbox” and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!”

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5. It gets people talking about two complex tax code provisions—the alternative minimum tax and the border adjustment provision—which are likely to be changed or repealed as part of the overhaul of the federal tax code that is now being pushed by Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas.

Trump has a history of leaking news about himself when it’s in his own best interest, as Johnston—who wrote a 2016 biography about the president—pointed out during the MSNBC interview. It’s also well known that Trump used to pose as his own publicist when talking with journalists. While we are unlikely to ever find out where these documents originated from, it’s abundantly clear that this leak did more help than harm to Trump.

About the author

I'm the executive editor of Fast Company and Co.Design.

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