Less than two hours before her 9 o’clock show was set to air on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow tweeted that she had landed a stunning exclusive: Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The tweet had just enough time to go viral (it had been shared over 68,000 times before the show began, and “Rachel Maddow” was trending on Twitter almost immediately) before she went live with details from the Form 1040 from Trump’s 2005 return.
And throughout it all, Twitter reacted and reacted and reacted.
The investigative reporter and tax expert David Cay Johnston, who had obtained the 1040 in the mail and passed it on to Maddow, suggested Trump, himself, had sent him the document. Johnston also emphasized how Trump used loopholes to secure a discounted income tax rate and that he believed the rest of the returns would show something that Trump may be trying to hide.
Trump’s tax returns played a contentious role throughout the 2016 campaign after Trump refused to follow precedent and disclose his to the public, leaving many suspicious they contained compromising or embarrassing information. Trump repeatedly used the excuse that he was “under audit by the IRS” and could not release his recent returns; he also refused to release past returns.
The White House responded before the show even aired, claiming to MSNBC that the network is “desperate for ratings” and that the network was “violating a law to push a story.” (Maddow disputed this, saying the First Amendment gave her the right to discuss the returns.)