It was a nice scoop, though the document did nothing to answer any of the many questions about Trump’s possible ties to various dubious Russians about whom Maddow devoted the first half of her program, for which she took a certain amount of grief from viewers, as well as industry navel lint gazers and, of course, cable news competitors.
“Rachel’s in the news because she got hold of Trump’s 2005 tax return on her show. A lot of people were saying, though, it didn’t show much. So I guess last night people had to pick between watching This is Us or This Is Nothing,” Fallon said, joining in on that fun, in his opening monologue.
But, when Maddow joined him on stage, he enthused, “You were trending on Twitter last night!”
MSNBC’s primetime star walked Fallon through her week. On Monday she heard that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston had received what he believed to be one of Trump’s tax returns and was vetting it. “He said, if we can verify it, do we want to put it on TV. And we said, ‘Hmmm. Yes!’” Maddow said. They asked White House to verify, and planned an entire Tuesday back-up program in case it fell through. “They finally validated,” she said, though they still called her program “fake news” that night. And Wednesday, when not boasting how much money it shows he made, Trump issued tweets to discredit the document.
Maddow seemed to think viewers had whipped themselves into their frenzy before the broadcast, after she issued the tantalizing tweet: “We’ve got Trump tax returns,” adding, “Seriously.”
“I think the reason people got so excited about the news… is because it’s really weird that the president hasn’t released his financial information,” Maddow told Fallon. “And there’s a reason to worry about it… because of increasing worries about his contact with foreign countries like Russia. People are really concerned to see what’s in those tax returns.”
“So when we found out we had one, it’s like speaking to a group of people dying of thirst in the desert. ‘Behold! We have found a drop!'” she joked.
“Was there a huge, damning bombshell in these tax returns? No,” she acknowledged, calling it “the first piece of the jigsaw puzzle.”
Fallon asked what it felt like to be the person to whom all future Donald Trump tax return leaks would be sent, though he did not explain who had made that First-Dibs Rule.
“It just feels like a really big responsibility,” Maddow said happily.