The New York Times just published Donald Trump’s tax returns without his “affirmative authorization” as required by law.
This violates the plain language of the law, and is considered criminal if “willful.” In tax laws in general, and First Amendment cases as well, courts compel a definition of willful that requires the individual know the law and know the law prohibits them from doing what they did. Here is where The New York Times runs into true trouble.
Prior to receiving or publishing these documents, Executive Editor Dean Baquet acknowledged in a public forum with Bob Woodward and Laura Poitras that “lawyers would say this is crossing a line” and “you know what your lawyers would tell you: if you publish them, you go to jail.” In criminal willfulness prosecutions, this is as close as you get to a “smoking gun” of willful intent to break the law: public admission the person knows they would be breaking the law, but advocating it anyway. Worse yet, because Baquet is a “key employee” with authority to bind the company, this conduct could be considered a crime of The New York Times as a company.