Last night, at 7:36pm, Rachel Maddow dropped a hydrogen bomb on Twitter. The MSNBC host tweeted that she was in possession of the current holy grail of investigative journalism: Donald Trump’s tax returns. “Seriously,” she wrote, just in case anyone doubted her. She would release them live on the air at 9pm that night, which left people scrambling to find that one friend who still has cable.
BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC.— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) March 14, 2017
But Maddow teasing her big reveal was an odd move and hinted that the documents she had weren’t quite the torpedo that might sink the administration that Trump’s opposition was no doubt hoping for. In today’s push notification economy, when you have a Goliath-sized scoop, you get that out ASAP, lest the scooper become the scooped. And that’s exactly what happened, except that Maddow didn’t get scooped by a rival news organization. Instead, the White House caught wind of her plans and decided to release a preemptive statement detailing what was in those tax returns; namely that in 2005, Trump paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million in earnings.
"You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago," the statement read. "Before being elected president, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required." For the record, publishing Trump’s tax returns is not against any law.
Meanwhile, back on The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow continued to tease the reveal, first in a lengthy intro and then after a commercial break. The decision to wait irked some and set off a wave of ridicule on Twitter. Celebrities reacted. When the time came to present her findings, it was veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston who joined Maddow on her show to reveal that he had been anonymously sent two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns that showed the same figures revealed in the White House’s statement. This led Johnston—who Trump tried to discredit on Twitter this morning—to speculate that it may have been Trump himself who sent these somewhat innocuous statements for reasons that might only make sense to him.
While some publications have been parsing the two pages to see what this glimpse into Trump’s financials might tell us, the big reveal here is that we know nothing and that Trump, who still refuses to release any tax returns from the last decade, is hiding some. This is “only a start,” Maddow said on her show last night. Of what exactly, remains to be seen.