New twist in the hunt for Donald Trump's tax returns

All recent US Presidents have released their tax returns except Donald Trump. Credit: AP

The Great Hunt has taken a twist.

Every investigative reporter in America has been trying to track down a copy of a recent Donald Trump tax return. It may seem ridiculous that finding such a document would be a major scoop.

But, remember, all recent US Presidents have released their tax returns, and yet Trump's finances are an almost complete mystery.

So the question has always been whether his tax form would reveal something politically devastating - like a flow of Russian money, or that his wealth is far less than he has boasted, or that he had avoided paying federal tax altogether. In other words, he must be hiding something, otherwise why not release the return?

Last night, amid a buildup worthy of the Oscars and the Super Bowl combined, the liberal journalist and commentator Rachel Maddow, revealed she had the great scoop.

Well, kind of.

In fact, Maddow had been given by someone else, the financial reporter David Cay Johnston, a fragment of a Trump tax return. It dates from 2005. What does it show?

The document reveals that Trump made more than $150m and paid $38m in taxes in that financial year. So no great scandal there.

The income the document revealed Donald Trump earned in 2005
The tax paid by Donald Trump in 2005

The revelation drew this furious response from Donald Trump Jr on twitter.

Since that's a decent amount of tax - at least in total if not as a percentage - it has even led to the suggestion that the leaker of the tax form was...Donald Trump himself.

Did he decide to release it to distract from the health care debate that has become politically toxic for him?

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It's also a possible diversionary tactic from the likelihood that later today the FBI Director, James Comey, will provide information into the Russian investigation.

That could provide embarrassing details about links between Trump advisers and Kremlin operatives.

To muddy the waters - or to cover his tracks - the White House has released a furious response, accusing Maddow of trafficking in a stolen document.

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.

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.

That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.

Despite this substantial income figure and tax paid, 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.

– Statement, Trump administration official

Like so much of the febrile reporting and the counter-blasts from the Trump Administration, this leaves us aching for clarity and facts.

What we have instead is a world of confusion, conspiracy and complication. Oh well, the hunt has only just begun and we've three years and 10 months to go before the next election.