Trump’s October surprise has come a few days early, with The New York Times publishing a lengthy report on the president’s tax information spanning two decades. The Times reports Trump often paid little or no federal income taxes during the period the information covers, that his companies are hemorrhaging money, and that he is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
The report also contradicted years of mainstream speculation that Trump’s tax returns would reveal evidence of Russian collusion if made public.
“They report that Mr. Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia,” the Times reports.
So it looks like the president is every bit the corrupt kleptocratic oligarch that everyone has always suspected, except the roots of his deception lie not in Moscow but in home-grown, American-as-apple-pie end-stage capitalism.
Any update on this? https://t.co/8P57bvi2QN
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) September 28, 2020
These revelations by the Times are certainly newsworthy and most certainly should have been published, and this would be the case even if the information they are based on was obtained illegally. Powerful people like the president of the United States have no business keeping secrets from the public; the more power you have over people, the fewer secrets you should be allowed to keep from them. This report served the public interest and it would be criminal for the Trump administration to prosecute the Times for publishing it, regardless of how it was obtained.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this.
As the liberal commentariat applauds The New York Times for its journalistic accomplishment, it’s worth remembering that across the pond another journalist is being prosecuted in a pervasively corrupt and deceitful show trial for exposing not mere tax information, but evidence of actual war crimes.
I am of course speaking of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is being prosecuted by the Trump administration for the 2010 Manning leaks which revealed US malfeasance in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump’s Justice Department is seeking extradition on charges under the Espionage Act which will carry a sentence of up to 175 years in prison, a precedent that will inevitably have a chilling effect on journalism around the world as reporters shy away from natsec investigative reporting on the US for fear of suffering the same fate.
It’s also worth reminding the world that WikiLeaks itself has for years been soliciting the same tax information that The New York Times is being praised for exposing.
WikiLeaks is open to any receive information from any source that is of political and/or historical significance https://t.co/6n8T0460A3
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 27, 2020
Following the NYT publication the WikiLeaks Twitter account re-shared a request it had made in January 2017 for anyone with access to Trump’s tax returns to submit them to WikiLeaks, with a reminder that it remains open to any similar leaks.
“Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway stated today that Trump will not release his tax returns. Send them to: wikileaks.org/#submit so we can,” the 2017 tweet reads.
This was not the only time WikiLeaks made this request. They made a similar request before the 2016 election as well, almost exactly four years ago, tweeting “#Debates Clinton biting strongly on Trump’s secret tax returns. If you have them they can be submitted here: wikileaks.org/#submit”.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 27, 2016
This invalidates the common criticism that WikiLeaks has never published information on Trump. WikiLeaks is a leak publishing outlet; it only publishes what people give it. If people know they can safely leak information through mass media outlets like The New York Times, as is evidently the case in an administration that has been rife with leaks for years, they tend to do so. It’s only when people can’t receive the protection of powerful institutions that they leak through WikiLeaks.
We learned in 2013 that Chelsea Manning tried to publish her historic leaks through mainstream media outlets and turned only to WikiLeaks because those outlets didn’t take her seriously. As The Guardian reported during the Manning trial [male pronouns due to Manning, who is a trans woman, not having yet transitioned at the time]:
While he was on leave from Iraq and staying in the Washington area in January 2010 he contacted the Washington Post and asked would it be interested in receiving information that he said would be “enormously important to the American people”. He spoke to a woman who said she was a reporter but “she didn’t seem to take me seriously”.
The woman said, according to Manning’s account, that the paper would only be interested subject to vetting by senior editors.
Despairing of that route, Manning turned to the New York Times. He called the public editor of the paper but only got voicemail.
He then tried other numbers on the paper but also got put through to voicemail, and though he left a message with his Skype contact details, nobody called him back.
Those outlets failed Manning while WikiLeaks came through. This is because Manning was not merely seeking to publicize the tax information on an unpopular president to a powerful outlet which openly opposes him, but the largest stash of US military secrets that anyone had ever leaked.
The criticism that WikiLeaks has never published incriminating information on Trump has always been baseless, and not just due to a scarcity of leakers coming to them. As journalist and WikiLeaks activist Suzie Dawson pointed out last year, there are thousands of documents relating to Trump in the WikiLeaks database consisting of opposition research and other unflattering information on the controversial figure.
Typing the words “Donald Trump” into WikiLeaks’ search engine comes up with 14,531 results as of this writing from the DNC Leaks, the Podesta emails, the Global Intelligence Files and other publications throughout WikiLeaks’ history. People who claim WikiLeaks “never publishes” information about a given subject are usually only saying so because they’ve never typed the name of that subject into the search bar on the WikiLeaks website (and that goes for Russia, too).
It’s also worth noting that the 2017 Vault 7 CIA leaks were a Trump administration publication. It enraged the Trump administration so much that the next month Mike Pompeo gave a speech declaring WikiLeaks a “hostile non-state intelligence service” and vowing to take the outlet down, and a few months later Trump’s DOJ issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest on a made-up, bogus charge. Assange smearers don’t like to count the CIA leaks because they don’t contain any videos of Trump with well-hydrated Russian prostitutes, but they were indisputably a blow to this administration and it’s stupid to pretend otherwise.
Finally it needs to be said that expecting WikiLeaks to publish information on Trump while actively being attacked by the Trump administration is an unreasonable expectation, to put it mildly. When the most powerful government on earth wages war on a publisher, that does tend to put a damper on their output. Expecting WikiLeaks to magically produce damning information on Trump while its founder is being actively prosecuted and while competing for leaks with mainstream plutocratic media who have massive resources available to them is ridiculous.
If you care about journalism, support Assange. The powerful need to be held to account, and we shouldn’t have to rely on the permission of other factions of power to allow us to do that.
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