What do the Trump tax returns tell us? Not much.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow promised, with much fanfare, a scintillating scoop on Tuesday night — President Donald Trump’s much talked about tax returns. What she revealed was a letdown – two pages of Trump’s 2005 returns that told us little we don’t already know.

Trump reported $153 million in income offset against $103 million in losses. He paid $38 million in taxes on the difference. While the losses he reports are large, they are not unexpected. Previously revealed documents show he reported losses topping $916 million in 1995 and planned to use those losses to offset future income.

The documents released provide no details on the source of Trump’s income though. Those looking for a Russia connection won’t find it.

Nor did the two pages shed light on the source of Trump’s losses. The White House said they were a “large-scale depreciation for construction,” but did not give specifics. The continuing write-off of the earlier losses is a reasonable enough guess.

Click to view Trump’s returns at DCreport.org

The returns do demonstrate that Trump paid substantial taxes, but took advantage of tax rules when he could to minimize what he owed. Most any reasonable business person would do the same.

The documents were leaked by an unnamed source to DCReport.org, a site run by David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times tax reporter . The White House did not dispute their authenticity in a statement issued shortly before the documents were released. “Before being elected president, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world, with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said.

The White House also angrily denounced Maddow for publicizing Trump’s returns. “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,” its statement said. “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.”

On social media, condemnation of Maddow’s hyped revelation was swift and fierce. Social media comments drew snarky analogies to Geraldo Rivera’s heavily hyped, but ultimately ill-fated opening of Al Capone’s safe. The safe, like the tax returns, turned out to be empty.

It was one more in the maddening series of leaks that have bedeviled Trump since taking office. In the end, Maddow’s scoop did more for her ratings than for the public’s understanding of Trump’s finances.

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