Donald Trump appeared Wednesday morning to accuse a former New York Times reporter of stealing part of his 2005 tax return, tweeting doubts that they appeared in David Cay Johnston’s mailbox.
Using a tactic he often did during the 2016 campaign, the president planted a seed of doubt with an early morning tweet about how the former New York Times reporter got the two-page 1040 form, which was released the night before on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
Trump essentially asked why anyone would believe Johnston’s claim that someone mailed the two pages to him. Johnston covered the tax beat for the Times, and now runs DCReport.org, a news organization that bills itself as focused on “what this administration does.”
Trump also sought to cast doubt on the reporter’s credibility, labeling Johnston as just a random journalist “who nobody ever heard of.”
He then broke out one of his favorite attack lines, labeling the entire NBC News organization, in all capital letters, “FAKE NEWS!”
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, “went to his mailbox” and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
The documents were marked “client copy,” raising speculation that Trump or his aides sent them or gave them to Johnston. Trump’s Wednesday tweet could be construed as a wink toward just that.
Trump’s thinly veiled claim that the documents were not mailed to Johnston came less than 12 hours after his White House released a statement that verified the information contained in them, and called them collectively an “illegally published return.”
Johnston responded to Trump’s attack, pointing out that the White House had confirmed his story.
Gee, Donald, your White House confirmed my story. POTUS fake Tweet. Sad! https://t.co/ibK2ApKI9E
— David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) March 15, 2017
The White House released the statement before Maddow went on the air, and she said her staff asked the administration to verify the documents as authentic.
The information in the statement matched that in the two 1040 pages, saying that year 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.”
The White House also claimed it is illegal to “steal and publish tax returns,” although Johnston said he obtained them in an unsolicited manner, which would mean he is shielded by law.
“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,” the White House said in its statement.