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MSNBC host Rachel Maddow dramatically hyped her show last night, saying she had a big scoop and a big reveal. She had President Trump's tax returns and was going to show them to the world for the first time. And, she noted, Trump's tax filings could ultimately show if Trump had financial ties to places like Russia -- among a host of other potential entanglements.
But by the time Maddow actually showed her viewers two pages of Trump's 2005 IRS filing, we discovered there was a lot she didn't show. It told us nothing about Russia or how Trump made money at all. It also told us that he paid federal income taxes, an open question during the presidential campaign.
By the time Maddow's show ended, it was clear that an hour that was supposed to make Trump look bad actually helped him in three concrete ways:
1. It showed that Trump does earn a lot of money and does pay a lot in taxes -- at least in 2005.
Trump should not be let off the hook for being the first presidential nominee in decades not to release his taxes during the campaign. Not doing so has created numerous questions for him.
But during the presidential campaign the New York Times obtained a few years of state income tax reports for Trump that implied that he might not have paid taxes for many years. Democrats tried to use this as proof that he was somehow out of touch with the little guy.
The two pages of Trump's 2005 tax return certainly suggest that while he might not relate to a household making $75,000 a year, he has paid millions in taxes. In fact, his effective tax rate of 25 percent is more than what Mitt Romney showed he paid. In releasing the tax return that she did, with nothing beyond those two pages, Maddow took away a political argument for Democrats -- at least for now.
2. Maddow helped Trump change the subject.
Before her show, the main topic dominating cable news was Republican disarray over the Republican health care replacement bill. Simply put, the bill looks like it will fail in the Senate and may even have problems in the House, as currently drafted. There are questions about what Trump needs to do and what changes need to be made to get people on board.
There was also a report from CNN that as early as today FBI Director Jim Comey would reveal whether his agency actually had an investigation into Trump's ties with Russia.
But as it happened, Trump's taxes led all the morning shows and newspapers -- not health care and not Russia.
If anything, the tax story buys Trump time to figure out the next steps on health care.
3. The presentation helps Trump continue his narrative about the media.
While the White House quickly confirmed the 2005 tax return as accurate, it also got another chance to question the motives of the media. Trump clearly likes turning the media into his foil and no doubt sees a political benefit from it.
Maddow's presentation played right into Trump's hands.
In fact, moments after Maddow's show ended, Fox News host Sean Hannity suggested that NBC and MSNBC were aiding the "deep state" of the government to take Trump down.