Reporter Who Revealed Trump’s Taxes Slams ‘Unethical’ White House

On CNN's New Day Wednesday, the investigative reporter who revealed President Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns, cried foul over the White House leaking them to news organizations, accusing them of behaving "unethically," and that the public doesn't know how much the President is "getting from the Russian oligarches." He also said the former point a few hours later on MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle. Moreover, Johnston ranted in his CNN interview about other aspects of Trump's returns.

"Donald has a long history of leaking things. Doing it directly and indirectly. It’s a possibility. The anger suggested to me not likely. It's when something gets leaked he's happy about they don't complain," David Cay Johnston, who broke the story, said on New Day

Cuomo replied, "They did have their game together. When they found out this was coming out, they put out a response that nailed exactly how to play this and they don't always do that."

"Actually they behaved pretty unethically," Johnston responded. "I sent them the document and they gave it out to competing news organizations. Professional PR people don't do things stuff like that. I've never had a White House do something like that."

Although there are reported instances Trump may have engaged with Russian businesses, Johnston, with unsubstantiated claims, panicked about what may be missing from his returns. "We don't know how much money Donald Trump is getting from the Russian oligarches. He has a more than 30-year connections and notice Trump always says Russia” and never says ‘Russians.’ And the oligarches are a state-sponsored network of international criminals that Donald has repeatedly done business with," he said. "Secondly, we want to know who he is indebted to and who is he paying fees to? One of Donald’s biggest lenders’s is a huge money laundering bank, Deutsche Bank. He is also borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from a Communist Chinese bank. That's just astonishing."

Johnston added, "That's just astonishing. We need to see Donald Trump's complete tax returns going back to 1977 which until now is the last year we knew he paid income taxes so we know who he is doing business with, who his partners are. Who he is getting money from. Who he is obligated to. And the Russian aspect we’ve been reporting, DC Report, I think has been very important to this. Particularly the land sale he did in Florida everybody said that's a pay off."

Other examples of Johnston expressing during the interview his displeasure with the returns includes how much Trump paid. "We have two tax systems for wealthy people: Regular and AMT. Under the regular system, he would have paid $5 million on 153 million. That’s less than 3.5%. That's less than the tax rate paid by the poorest half of Americans," he said.

He added, "He wants to live like a king and pay taxes like he's a pauper and we can't run our military and the FBI and the other things needed to make America a free and independent country without tax revenue."

Here is the transcript from the March 15th exchange:

New Day

03/15/2017

6:02:44 AM - 6:15:10 AM [7 min., 26 sec.]

CHRIS CUOMO: We got the man this morning. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston. Now, he got the President's tax return in the mail anonymously sent to him. Publihsed it on DCreports.com. Promptly crashed the servers there. And he's also the author of The Making of Donald Trump. So we have the reporting. We have the tax, and then we have the mysteries. So let's start with the reporting, how did you get this? 

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: It just came to my home. I was in Palm Beach, Florida, looking at Mara Lago when I got a phone call from one of my grown children that this came to my house in Rochester, New York, and I went up to New York City. 

CUOMO: You don't know who sent it to you, you didn’t solicit it, and you didn't ask anybody for it. 

JOHNSTON: Correct. 

POPPY HARLOW: But it had two very important words on it: “Client copy.” What does that tell you? 

JOHNSTON: First of all, it didn't come from the Internal Revenue Service, which probably got it electronically. It probably came from someone given that copy either because they worked in the accounting firm or it was produced in litigation or it was produced for a regulatory proceeding and somebody had access to it. I think the reason they probably sent it to me is because I have written so much about negative incomes and how they're used by wealthy people to avoid paying taxes and the minimum alternative tax. 

HARLOW: Do you think it was possible it was sent to you by the President? 

JOHNSTON: Yes, Donald has a long history of leaking things. Doing it directly and indirectly. It’s a possibility. The anger suggested to me not likely. It's when something gets leaked he's happy about they don't complain. 

CUOMO: They did have their game together. When they found out this was coming out they put out a response that nailed exactly how to play this and they don't always do that. 

JOHNSTON: Actually they behaved pretty unethically. I sent them the document and they gave it out to competing news organizations. Professional PR people don't do things stuff like that. I've never had a White House, and my experience goes back 50 years, do something like that.

CUOMO: Join the club. So client copy takes the IRS out of it and that's important right now because what we have seen is institutions keep getting attacked as part of a political tactic to deal with criticism of the president. 

JOHNSTON: Right. 

CUOMO: So client copy puts this into the realm again of unethical litigant. Somebody that got this through discovery and wasn't supposed to release it or someone connected to Trump that would have had this. That's how you got it. Now what's in it. As you said you do a lot of writing about the alternative minimum tax and what's going on. 

JOHNSTON: The Trumps that year had $153 million in income. About $3 million a week. They also took $103 million of negative income and I believe that's from a tax shelter that the President bought. 

CUOMO: What is negative income? 

JOHNSTON: It's reverse numbers. You're in the hole. 

CUOMO: So you lost money.

JOHNSTON: That's right. In Trump's case he didn't have negative income. The banks took that loss, but the president bought a tax shelter that allowed him to take it as well. Double taking the loss. 

CUOMO: Illegal. 

JOHNSTON: Congress, the Republicans in Congress shut that off the minute they learned about it, but you know what they do? They let the people that already bought the tax shelter keep it. 

CUOMO: Legal, but they changed the tax subsequently.

JOHNSTON: So this -- the President, we only have the regular tax system. We have two tax systems for wealthy people: Regular and AMT. Under the regular system, he would have paid $5 million on 153 million. That’s less than 3.5%. That's less than the tax rate paid by the poorest half of Americans.

HARLOW: let's talk about why that matters. That matters because he wants to overhaul the tax code. A lot of folks want to overhaul it. 36 and a million dollars he would have paid about 3. 

JOHNSTON: That’s right. He would have paid 5. That's right. He wants to live like a king and pay taxes like he's a pauper and we can't run our military and the FBI and the other things needed to make America a free and independent country without tax revenue. 

CUOMO: There's a big debate about that. Poppy and I were talking about it before the show. You can't blame Trump for the existing system. He was just working the system as everybody else does who doesn't want to pay a penny more than they have to. 

HARLOW: Liberals and conservatives. 

CUOMO: Was there anything that went to charitable giving or schedules that shows foreign asset structure? 

JOHNSTON: No, we do know this was the one year out of the last 15 or so the President made a gift to his own charity. $660,000 but beyond that we don't know. That's from the tax return of his charity which I also examined. 

CUOMO: So this was the right year to get in terms of Trump's own interest, right? That's part of the backlash here is that for a leak this seemed to be pretty good for the President. 

JOHNSTON: Yes it makes him look quite good and the numbers if I'm right about the tax shelter imply his average income was $81.5 million a year. Half, roughly. 

CUOMO: So it was the best number to show how much money he makes. It doesn't show anything nepharious and he winds up looking like see what's the big deal. 

JOHNSTON: If we don't see, though, which is probably a thousand pages, his entire return for many years. 

CUOMO Who would have client copy of a few pages? 

JOHNSTON: It could be a function of who had time to go to a photo copier. I don't know. Donald Trump is unique in that he is not showing his tax returns. We had Hillary Clinton's tax returns in the 1970s. 

HARLOW: This is the lead this morning because it is news but this is an intentional distraction. Stay with us, David. We want to bring in our panel to talk about exactly that and more. Associate Editor and Columnist at Real Clear Politics, AB Stoddard, is with us. CNN analyst and author of How is Your Faith, David Gregory, is here. And political commentator and Senior Columnist at The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis, is here. Chris made important points there when you look at his income over a number of years and big losses, this is a rosy outlook for the President. Do you see this as an intentional distraction regardless of who it came from? 

DAVID GREGORY: It may have the effect of being a distraction and self-serving. It's an incomplete picture and the picture that is presented is revealing of things that are consistent with what president trump has said about his financial standing his wealth and his taxes he paid. About what David said, we don't know the extent of his financial entanglement and involvement around the globe. 

CUOMO: The timing is curious. It is yet in the midst of all of the other things that the president wants to get away from. The wiretapping claims. The Comey coming and finally giving word about the nature of the investigation of Trump by that agency if there is one. The timing is pretty curious, no? 

AB STODDARD: I think if he intentionally did this the timing is shrewd. Not because of the huge divisions within the Republican Party and the battle over how to replace and repair ObamaCare but really on this Russia stuff. That if the person who sort of went to bed early on a snow night maybe on the East Coast last night and can only pay attention to this in passing on the way to work, not at the granular level we do, didn't see David's interview last night, that person might see this and say it looks like he paid his taxes. Maybe they don't know that we don't know who he is getting his money from. At this point they look at this and they say maybe there's nothing to all of this stuff about him being beholden to Russia and I think that is what serves this purpose if it was intentional leak from anyone in Trump world. 

HARLOW: What this does show us is this white house can and is willing to put out the President's tax information. It does show us that. This is a president that said he would show his tax returns when the audit is over. Never has. He can do it anyways. An audit doesn't prevent you from doing that. The White House proves by putting out this statement. 

CUOMO: He hasn't even given us proof. 

HARLOW: Exactly. That they can put out tax returns when they want to.

MATT LEWIS: I just question the news value of this, right? Possibly the speculation this morning is maybe even it came from Donald Trump. This story was hyped so much by the media on social media specifically last night like it’s Al Capone’s vault. It comes out and it's two pages. It makes Donald Trump look really good and I just wonder does it feed the appetite for more or does it pass identify people? People say, “We have seen the taxes.”

CUOMO: That comes to the nature of how you report it. 

LEWIS: But it speaks to the media. Let's just assume for a second that he is playing us. Well it wouldn't be the first time. He has played us like a violin and it could be -- 

CUOMO: Let's go slow with saying that the president did it. Hold on a second, David. Let me deal with this from the perspective of the taxes. There are more questions for you to answer. What do you want to say to people that say they have the big tax guy, this is the whole story and now we know he doesn't pay more taxes than he has to. Can't blame him for that. What do you want people to know about what remains to be known? 

JOHNSTON: Here's what we don't know. We don't know how much money Donald Trump is getting from the Russian oligarchs. He is a more than 30-year connections and notice Trump always says “Russia” and never says “Russians.” And the oligarchs are a state-sponsored network of international criminals that Donald has repeatedly done business with. Secondly, we want to know who he is indebted to and who is he paying fees to? One of Donald’s biggest lenderers is a huge money laundering bank, Deutsche Bank. He is also borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from a Communist Chinese bank. That's just astonishing. We need to see Donald Trump's complete tax returns going back to 1977 which until now is the last year we knew he paid income taxes so we know who he is doing business with, who his partners are. Who he is getting money from. Who he is obligated to. And the Russian aspect we’ve been reporting, DC Report, I think has been very important to this. Particularly the land sale he did in Florida everybody said that's a pay off. 

CUOMO: So, this is the beginning. 

JOHNSTON: Absolutely. It's the beginning and it's a window that I told you a lot about from the window but it's just that -- 

HARLOW: It's an airplane window. Thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it. 

NBDaily Taxes Media Bias Debate Conspiracy Theories Covert Liberal Activists New Day Journalistic Issues Government & Press White House David Cay Johnston Chris Cuomo Donald Trump
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