In Wednesday's edition of "What Did President Trump Say On Twitter This Morning," Trump responded to his tax return leak, a scoop picked up by MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday night. Maddow teased the tax return leak on Twitter Tuesday afternoon before diving into two pages from the president's 2005 tax return on her show Tuesday evening. Trump had previously refused to release his tax returns while on the campaign trail, and continued to deny the public his returns even after winning the election — making Trump the first president since Nixon who has not released his tax returns while in office.
Trump's response to Maddow's exclusive was textbook Trump, right out of his Twitter playbook: Deny, deflect, denounce. "Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, 'went to his mailbox' and found my tax returns?" Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. Trump's tweet read:
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of "went to his mailbox" and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
While Maddow's tax return scoop certainly blew up the airwaves Tuesday night, Trump's tax return revelations were far more mundane than all the Twitter hype had most Americans believing: Trump paid $38 million in income taxes in 2005, on a reported $135 million in income.
Even though Trump's 2005 tax returns were far from a bombshell, his Twitter response was of course bombastic. The reporter "who nobody ever heard of," according to Trump, just so happens to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. David Cay Johnston is a veteran investigative journalist who has worked for several major newspapers in his career, including The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Los Angeles Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In August, he released The Making of Donald Trump, a massive tome documenting "basically everything Donald Trump wants to make sure you do not know," Johnston told Moyers & Company.
Trump also mocked how Johnston came into possession of Trump's tax returns. Johnston told Maddow that "they came in the mail," but did not specify when he received the documents. The White House responded to Maddow and Johnston's tweets Tuesday, with a statement that read in part, "Despite this substantial income figure and tax paid, it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns."
And of course, Trump uses his favorite two-word phrase — (no, not "bigly tremendous" or "more orange") "FAKE NEWS" — to delegitimize what the media has found. This is the most disturbing part of Trump's tweet. Barring every other word in his tweet, "FAKE NEWS" has become Trump's de facto response to any media that criticizes him, that is, when his administration isn't banning media outlets from the White House press room outright. It's easy to roll our eyes and say, "Oh, that Trump! There he goes again!" when he calls the media "fake news" — but he's actually counting on Americans to do just that.
Here's a not-so-fun fact for your Wednesday morning: Trump's attacks on the media come straight out of the fascist totalitarian playbook. Every time Trump calls the news fake — or worse, calls the media "the enemy of the people" — he erodes away an integral understanding between the American government's relationship to its people: If the administration f*cks up, it's the media's job to report it to the masses.
Oh, and one more thing, Trump: You can't call it fake news when your own White House validates the tax returns.