Baffled CBS Can't Imagine: Why Send Anti-Trump Tax Docs to NYT?

The journalists at CBS This Morning on Monday leapt to cover illegally leaked tax documents, declaring they show Donald Trump to be a “flop of a businessman.” Guest co-host Josh Elliott played dumb and pretended he didn’t know why a mystery individual would have sent the forms to the liberal New York Times. Talking to two of the reporters who broke the story for the paper, Elliott wondered, “Do you have any sense of why they were sent to you?” 

Reporter Susanne Craig portrayed herself as equally baffled: “I've been covering Donald Trump's finances and I covered Wall Street, but I really don't know. I don't know why they selected me out of any reporter in the country.” Could it have something to do with the paper’s aggressively anti-Trump coverage? 

The documents show Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 returns. Later in the interview, co-host Charlie Rose mused about more illegal documents arriving at the Times. Reporter David Barstow, who co-wrote the article, responded by reading out the paper’s mailing address: 

ROSE: Speculation that maybe other documents coming and more information coming? Is that a reasonable speculation? 

BARSTOW: We are doing everything we can to help that happen. 620 Eighth Avenue. New York. 10018 [Starts laughing.]

Earlier in the show, Major Garrett lectured, “The biggest headline might be that in the 1990s, Donald Trump was a spectacular flop as a businessman.” At the very end of his segment, Garrett explained: 

MAJOR GARRETT: The New York Times claims the documents were mailed to the paper anonymously but the paper took a risk publishing them. The law against disclosing tax information says the publication of unauthorized tax documents can be punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment of not more than five years, or both. 

None of the CBS journalists noted, as did the National Review’s Jim Geraghty in his Morning Jolt e-mail, the long history of leaks against Republicans: 

Back in 1999, George W. Bush’s Yale transcripts wereleaked to The New Yorker.

Back in 2008, Helen Jones-Kelley, director of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services, checked state computer systems for information on Toledo-area resident Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. “Joe the Plumber.” She was placed on unpaid leave for one month.
Back in 2009, an unidentified U.S. Attorney’s office staffer “accidentally” mailed a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, alleging financial misdeeds by Michael Steele to a Washington Postreporter right around the time Steele was running for RNC Chair. Nothing ever came out of that investigation, but the damage was done; the front-page headline “STEELE UNDER INVESTIGATION” still ran.

In 2011, Rick Perry’s college transcripts were leaked to the Huffington Post.

A partial transcript of the interview with the Times journalists can be found below: 

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10/3/16
8:02am ET 

CHARLIE ROSE: Donald Trump’s taxes are front and center again as a a campaign issue. The New York Times published three pages from the candidate's 1995 tax return. They show Trump declared nearly 916 million dollar loss. The Times says that loss from several lost bad business deals could have allowed him to legally him to avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years. 

GAYLE KING: The Trump campaign says the documents were illegal maintained. A campaign aide also says, “Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for president and he is the only one that knows how to fix it.” Two New York Times journalists who broke this story about Donald Trump's tax return are with us now. Reporter Susanne Craig discovered copies of the documents in her office mailbox late last month. Senior writer David Barstow also tracked down the tax attorney who signed this return. Now, this story remains the most viewed and most e-mailed article on the New York Times website. Susanne Craig and David Barstow join us a the table. So much to discuss. Welcome to you both. Take us there, Susanne. So, take us there, Susanne. You go to your mailbox. You see this document and you think what? 

SUSANNE CRAIG: Well, I looked at it and it said  — it had a return address from the Trump Tower. I got, you know, like what is this? I opened it and it looked what appeared to be three pages of Donald Trump's tax return. And I'm just sort of staring at it going, “This can't be true.” I was on a phone call. I hung up from the person I was talking to and I walked over to David's desk who was on the phone and I showed it to him. He just hung up the phone. We went into a room and just sort of looking at them. It was both like we couldn't believe it. And also we need to figure out if we can verify this at the same time. So, there was like a disprove and “can we verify this?” all at the same time. 

GARRETT: And were there legal questions? Did your lawyer have to say, “Wait a minute. We have to take a look at this and make sure we can go ahead with this?”  

CRAIG: I think we as reporters felt that way. We had to just start to figure it out and see if, A, get somebody to verify it and start going through the numbers. 

ELLIOTT: Do you have any sense of why they were sent to you? 

CRAIG: I've been covering Donald Trump's finances and I covered Wall Street, but I really don't know. I don't know why they selected me out of any reporter in the country. I was thinking maybe a lot of other reporters got it and don't check their mailboxes. So — 

KING: Who send something regular mail these days? But, let’s go to you, David, because you talked to the accountant. Did you have a difficult time getting him to talk to you? Did you call him up on the phone and say, “Hey, look what we have here?”  

DAVID BARSTOW: This is one I wanted to go and sit down face-to-face with him. I wanted to show the documents to him.  

KING: Did you call him ahead of time or just show up? 

BARSTOW: The bane of every reporter's existence is a gated community. So having to navigate the security gate and ultimately persuade Mr. Mitnick to sit down with me at a bagel shop—  I then had the opportunity to really stress-test the documents with him. There are all kind of things about these documents that we were concerned about. We all remember the kind of the Dan Rather episode and, you know, this is a really important matter. It's a critical time in the campaign. And so what we did was we went through all of the things that made us doubt or be skeptical of these documents, sort of one-by-one with him and he, of course was —  he's a very careful man. He was obviously, deeply aware of his ethical requirements not to divulge information directly connected to Mr. Trump's finances, but what he was willing to do, and it was the thing that we really needed him to do, was to authenticate the documents. The critical moment for me and for us was we were terribly bothered by the way numbers appeared on the tax return. 

ELLIOTT: The first two digits actually that were drawn? 

BARSTOW: Yes. So there’s this huge number. 916 million dollar loss. But the nine and the one were slightly different font and they were slightly misaligned with the other — 

ROSE: And what did that say to you? 

BARSTOW: It made us worried that perhaps somebody just added these digits and then sent us the documents. 

ROSE: Speculation that maybe other documents coming and more information coming? Is that a reasonable speculation? 

BARSTOW: We are doing everything we can to help that happen. 620 Eighth Avenue. New York. 10018 [Starts laughing.]

...

KING: His campaign is saying this is a genius move on his part but they are not happy you released all of his tax returns. Are you concerned about legal action from him against you for releasing? 

BARSTOW: I think it's —  I think it's a very well understood principle in our journalistic tradition in this country that if we didn't entice someone to break the law, if someone mails documents to us and we think they are in the public interest, that we have every right, under the First Amendment, to publish that information. 

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