Speculation that White House set up tax returns “leak” to release pressure for full disclosure

Developments on Day 54 of the Trump Administration:

2 Pages of Trump Tax Returns Whip Up a Furor

After Donald Trump refuses for months to release his tax returns, two pages of a 2005 return emerge — but the story soon becomes a PR battle and speculation that the White House leaked them to pre-empt pressure for full disclosure.

The pages from the 1040 tax declaration were left in the mailbox of journalist David Cay Johnston, who discussed them with Rachel Maddow, a host on US outlet MSNBC. They indicated he paid $38 million on a declared income of $140 million, an effective tax rate of 25%. Trump wrote off $100 million of business losses to reduce the tax burden.

The return also indicated that most of Trump’s payment was under the alternative minimum tax, which the President wants to abolish. Without the tax, Trump would have paid only $7 million.

However, the limited information in the return was overtaken — before it appeared — by a PR battle and speculation over who leaked the document. After Maddow announced on social media that she would present her “scoop”, the White House hailed Trump as “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”. It said Trump had taken a “large-scale depreciation for construction” but had paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes”.

The statement also assailed “dishonest media” and said it is “totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns”.

The Democratic National Committee said the pre-emptive White House declaration undercut Trump’s long-held position that he could not provide tax returns because of an Internal Revenue Service audit:

The White House’s willingness to release some tax information when it suits them proves Donald Trump’s audit excuse is a sham.

If they can release some of his information, they can release all of the information. The only reason not to release his returns is to hide what’s in them such as financial connections with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin.

Other journalists, including Johnston, speculated that the White House arranged for the leaking of the two pages. Suggested motives ranged from a ploy to divert pressure from Trump to produce years of tax documents to a distraction from stories such as difficulties for the GOP’s proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare to a stealing of headlines from today’s possible announcement by FBI Director James Comey of an inquiry into Trump-Russia links.

TOP PHOTO: Donald Trump (Julie Jacobson/AP)

White House Document: 26 Million to Lose Healthcare Under GOP Plan

A White House analysis says 26 million people will lose coverage by 2026 under the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The number from the Office of Management and Budget forecast is even greater than the estimate of 24 million in Monday’s Congressional Budget Office report arousing consternation among even some Republican legislators.

White House officials tried to argue that the OMB document is not an analysis of the bill’s effects, but an attempt to predict CBO conclusions.

However, the documents obtained by Politico counter that argument, with the OMB carrying out an analysis that concludes losses will include 17 million under Medicaid, 6 million in the individual market, and 3 million in employer-based plans. The total of uninsured will reach 54 million by 2026, almost doubt the current total.

Trump Overrules National Security Advisor Over Replacement of Aide

President Donald Trump overrules the attempt by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to replace an aide at the National Security Council.

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, reportedly fell out of favor with officials at the CIA. McMaster told Cohen-Watnick on Friday that he would be moved to another position in the organization.

But Cohen-Watnick appealed McMaster’s decision to two White House allies, chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s so-in-law Jared Kushner. They raised the matter on Sunday with Trump, who agreed that Cohen-Watnick should remain, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

The issue of the NSC’s autonomy has been elevated since Trump took office by Bannon’s attempt at influence, including his attendance at NSC meetings, membership of the NSC’s Principals Committee, and staffing of posts with officials whom he supported.

When the first National Security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned over his discussions with the Russian Ambassador to the US, potential successors turned down the post because of concerns over autonomy. The appointment of McMaster, a highly-regarded general with experience from Afghanistan and Iraq, revived the prospect of the NSC establishing its position vis-a-vis the White House.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Meets Trump

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Donald Trump in the White House.

A senior advisor to the Deputy Crown Prince, who is also the Saudi Defense Minister, said the talks at lunch were a “historical turning point” in US-Saudi relations: “The meeting today restored issues to their right path and form a big change in relations between both countries in political, military, security and economic issues.”

However, no details were released and some observers focused on the US power politics, with the absence of some high-level officials from the meeting:

Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus were at the lunch.

Trump Envoy Meets Palestinian Authority Leader

Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt meets Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, a day after five hours of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A US Consulate statement merely said:

President Abbas told Mr Greenblatt that he believes that under President Trump’s leadership a historic peace deal is possible….

Greenblatt underscored President Trump’s commitment to working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.

The statement also said Abbas promised to address “Palestinian incitement” against Israel.