As the host of the number one cable television show among anti-Donald Trump viewers, Rachel Maddow could afford to take her time before revealing the details in the President’s leaked tax returns.
Taking advantage of the spotlight, the MSNBC journalist raised the government’s alleged ties to Russia in her opening monologue. In recent weeks, more cabinet and executive branch staff have become involved in potentially inappropriate contact with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
It was only after criticising the Russian links to the new administration that she revealed the two-page document from 2005, showing that the business tycoon had paid little income tax that year but had paid millions towards the Alternative Minimum Tax – a special rate applied for high earners who routinely take advantage of tax deductions.
The revelation came 84 minutes after she tweeted to her 6.6 million followers that she had landed a big scoop. It was the first time journalists had got their hands on Mr Trump’s tax returns.
In the meantime, the White House issued a scathing response to the leaks and detailed the tax return numbers before the MSNBC show aired.
"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," it read, accusing reporters of illegally stealing and publishing the documents.
The scoop produced mix results. Some were disappointed the numbers were relatively innocuous and that the tax returns had been hyped up. Richard Painter, who was chief ethics counsel under former President George W Bush, demanded to see Mr Trump's tax returns from between 2006 and 2016.
While rumours swirled that the President had leaked the returns himself, others insisted that Ms Maddow had broken the law as the White House claimed and she should be charged and arrested.
Mr Trump’s former communications director, Dan Scavino Jr, claimed the television host had "embarrassed herself" while the President continued to "make America great again".
The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr, tweeted: "Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realDonaldTrump is & that he paid $40mm in taxes!"
While Ms Maddow’s coverage of Russia and the Trump administration has gained her an even larger following, not all viewers were convinced that the focus on the President’s 2005 tax return had benefited her cause.
"I love Rachel Maddow but she was played," wrote filmmaker Rob Reiner on social media. "DT’s incomplete 2005 tax return distracts from a disastrous healthcare bill & Russia."
The President’s 1040 form from that year did not include any evidence of his ties to Russia, one of the most pressing reasons many Americans wish for more tax transparency from Mr Trump.
A January poll from ABC/The Washington Post found that 74 per cent of Americans and 49 per cent of Mr Trump’s own supporters wanted to see the tax returns.
Ms Maddow has asked for the President to reveal his full returns, which would be much longer than the two pages that was obtained by investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.
"Why will he not reveal his full taxes the way other Presidents have done? Why not let the public see the information for themselves?"
Mr Trump is not required by law to reveal his returns, but his former rival Hillary Clinton released hers, as did his Vice President Mike Pence.
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