Tonight on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow had a giant scoop, in that she obtained Donald Trump's tax returns for 2005. However, in publishing the documents (along with David Cay Johnston) some are saying that Maddow could have broken the law, and may even face jail time. Is that true?
Was What Rachel Maddow Did Illegal?
According to the White House, what Rachel Maddow did was clearly illegal. In fact, in a statement, the White House said, "it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns." But Maddow said that it is absolutely her first amendment right to publish the documents.
The fact is, there is a law that specifically addresses this. A portion of 26 U.S. Code ? 7213 says the following:
It shall be unlawful for any person to whom any return or return information (as defined in section 6103(b)) is disclosed in a manner unauthorized by this title thereafter willfully to print or publish in any manner not provided by law any such return or return information. Any violation of this paragraph shall be a felony punishable by a fine in any amount not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.
So based on this statute, it is clearly illegal. However, there is some complexity because the person in question is the President.
Can Rachel Maddow Go To Jail?
The punishment in the law is up to 5 years of jail and a $5000 fine. However, it is unlikely that Rachel Maddow could be punished for publishing Donald Trump's tax returns.
The New York Times published part of Trump's 1995 a few months ago. At that time, many legal experts said that there is clearly a public interest reason for Trump's tax returns to be published. Because of that, Maddow is expected to be protected by the first amendment.
When the New York Times published the 1995 Trump tax returns, Trump threatened to sue; however, he backed off, suggesting he wasn't on strong legal ground.
That being said, the person who provided the tax returns to Johnston and Maddow can definitely go to jail for this, if he/she is ever found.
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