The key bit comes near the end of the clip, at around 4:45. The Times received the envelope containing Trump’s tax documents on September 23rd. According to the story published last night, the documents “consisted of three pages,” the same ones that were the subject of the article. If the Times has more, it must have come in a second package. But why would the source dribble out documents instead of sending them in a batch? There are 40 days left to Election Day; analyzing and authenticating a large cache of material will take time. If the source is sitting on a larger archive, he/she would just send the whole archive now. Also, why send a second package separately before anything had appeared in print about the first set of documents? You would think the source would want proof that the Times was willing to publish this stuff before mailing additional documents. Otherwise they’d try another paper.
The sense I get from Craig’s coy “no comment” isn’t so much that the Times has other documents they’re sitting on as that they have follow-up stories in the works that might make the stuff that dropped last night seem more damning. For the moment, Jazz is right — Trump did nothing illegal and it’s not breaking news that rich people (and corporations) apply past losses to reduce or eliminate present tax liabilities. The possibility that America’s most vulgar, gold-plated billionaire avoided income tax liability for nearly two decades because of his 1995 losses is good class-resentment material, but all it is is a possibility. Even if their suspicions end up being confirmed, Trump can shrug and say, “What would you have done in my position?” Nor is it news that he had financial problems in the 90s. On the contrary, this guy became a blue-collar messiah last year while bragging about his corporate bankruptcies and his large donations to Democratic politicians. He convinced his fans that those were virtues, not vices, because each involved gaming a corrupt system that snotty coastal elites had turned to their advantage ages ago. The fact that the populist tribune Trump gamed it as cleverly as they did is, allegedly, a sort of righteous beating of the elite at their own game, Al Czervik versus Judge Smails. Last night’s revelations fit with that, at least among his fans — never mind that Trump has reveled in taunting his rich enemies in the past for not shouldering more of the public’s tax burden while tut-tutting the poor for not paying income taxes.
If this hurts him it’ll probably be by inflaming public curiosity as to why he’s not releasing his returns, which poll after poll shows is a key concern about him. Trump’s main liability is his character and this gives Clinton some new “What else don’t we know about this unsavory character and why don’t we know it?” ammo for the next two debates. That might not cost him votes but it may block him from winning some new ones. If, however, the Times has follow-up stories brewing that build on this, then obviously that’s more perilous for Trump. Here’s an interesting post, for example, by an accountant turned fund manager who sees a potentially juicy angle in all of this for secondary reporting. It could also be that the Times knows who sent the documents, either because the source revealed himself in the package or because the Times figured it out by eliminating various suspects. That would also create yuuuge opportunities for follow-up reporting, especially if the three pages of documents arrived with an unreported note that said, “There’s more where this came from. Call me at [phone number].” Watch the end of the clip as Craig is asked whether she does, in fact, know who the source is. It’s another “no comment” but she’s verrrrry coy. If they’ve located the source and are in contact with him/her then that would answer my question up top about dribbling out documents. The source wouldn’t have needed to dribble them out. He could have lured the Times with the three pages he sent, included his address in the package, and told them to come and get the rest of what he has.
All of this is highly volatile politically, to put it mildly. Trump has already primed his fans to believe that the election is necessarily rigged if he ends up losing. If, on top of that, the country most’s famously liberal newspaper drops some atomic scoop about his taxes a week before Election Day, that’ll be treated as a form of vote-tampering too irrespective of what the scoop is or the public’s interest in it. It could be anything — he’s been lying about his net worth, he’s a tax cheat, he has financial connections to Putin, whatever — and it’ll be “unfair” to have that information out so soon before the polls open, when voters are most impressionable. All of which is to say, if the source has been holding back a smoking gun and timing it for an October surprise, it might pay off with a Clinton win but the the partisan bitterness next year will be even more ferocious than it would have been otherwise (which is pretty darned ferocious). Telling Republicans after the election “You should be angry at Trump, not the Times” won’t work either. If the source was planning a surprise, he or she should have sprung it sooner.
Exit question: Will we care about any of this next week? Trump crony Roger Stone claims that Hillary will be “done” on Wednesday thanks to Wikileaks. Hmmm.