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Dean Baquet wasn't bluffing.
The New York Times executive editor said during a visit to Harvard in September that he would risk jail to publish Donald Trump's tax returns. He made good on his word Saturday night when the Times published Trump tax documents from 1995, which show the Republican presidential nominee claimed losses of $916 million that year — enough to avoid paying federal income taxes for as many as 18 years.
Federal law makes it illegal to publish an unauthorized tax return or "return information":
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.
The term "return information" covers not only return documents themselves but also the "amount of his income, payments, receipts, deductions, exemptions, credits, assets, liabilities, net worth, tax liability, tax withheld, deficiencies, overassessments or tax payments."
The Times published the first page of Trump's 1995 New York state resident income tax return, the first page of his New Jersey nonresident tax return and the first page of his Connecticut nonresident tax return.
Under New York law, it is unlawful "to divulge or make known in any manner the amount of income or any particulars set forth or disclosed in any report or return." Non-government employees face fines of as much as $10,000 and imprisonment for as long as one year.
In New Jersey, "any person ... divulging, disclosing or using [tax] information shall be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree," which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.
Connecticut's law against disclosure of tax information is more narrowly worded and, as the Hartford Courant reported, appears not to apply to the Times.
Baquet said during a panel discussion at Harvard that if the Times' lawyers advised him not to publish Trump tax returns, he would argue that such information is vital to the public interest because the real estate mogul's "whole campaign is built on his success as a businessman and his wealth."
Two weeks later, Times reporter Susanne Craig found tax documents in her mailbox.