What to focus on besides Donald Trump’s tax returns

In 2005, Donald Trump paid a tax rate of about 24% — $38 million in taxes on $153 million in income. It was less than many people want to see billionaires pay, but not low enough for Democrats to attack. That was the main takeaway from Rachel Maddow's much-hyped announcement that she was releasing one of Trump's federal tax returns Tuesday night. Until then, only state tax returns had been made public by other reporters. Her 20-minute introduction to the tax return release led to David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who runs DCReport.org. Johnston brought the returns to Maddow's show after he said he found them in his mail. Read the tax return here.

This is only a fragment of a much larger story. Maddow's 20-minute wind-up featured all the reasons she believes the president must release his tax returns: checking Trump's charitable giving, determining the actual scale of his wealth and, of course, determining what kind of money he received from foreign governments. The MSNBC host predicted that other Trump tax documents would be discovered in the coming months. And Johnston speculated that Trump or his team may have leaked the document themselves.

The predictable White House response: "You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago," read the government's official statement. MSNBC maintains there was nothing illegal about pushing Trump's return. Democrats were largely quiet about (or unimpressed by) the returns.

Want more? Mic covered every angle of the tax return release.

•  Breaking down Trump's effective tax rate.

•  Trump's return showed the vast majority of the $38 million he paid came from the alternative minimum tax, a rule meant to guarantee wealthier Americans pay higher rates than they otherwise would. Without that tax, Trump would have paid $5 million — 4% of his income — in federal tax

•  Turns out, Trump wants that alternative minimum tax eliminated.

•  Donald Trump Jr. decided to weigh in on Twitter.

The Twitter highlight: Trump tweeted that MSNBC's reporting was "FAKE NEWS," even though his staff seemed to confirm the tax return's validity.

This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that would be happy to review your copy of Donald Trump's 1040 form.

The things to watch besides taxes:

•  Today: Everything you need about Donald Trump's tax return, free of noise. Of course, you can also scroll for non-tax-return news.

•  More: Major developments in the Congressional Russia investigations.

•  Even more: Roadblocks to the passage of the American Health Care Act keep cropping up. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday he is open to changes to the AHCA.

•  Trump effect: A slew of negative headlines are taking a toll, and Trump's approval rating is back under 40%

•  Mic exclusive: Congressional leaders fighting HIV/AIDS are urging Trump to take action on the issue. 

•  Trump's agenda today: Flying to Detroit to draw attention to American auto manufacturing jobs. Traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, visiting the birthplace of Andrew Jackson and holding a "Make America Great Again" rally.

Important testimony, committee blockade imminent in Russia inquiries 

Three important things are happening related to Russian investigations on Wednesday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley will not move to confirm Trump's pick for deputy attorney general until his committee receives a briefing on Russia from the FBI. Rod Rosenstein, the nominee for the position, told senators last week he could not commit to appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Russia. That angered Democratic senators, who said they would attempt to block Rosenstein's confirmation — a move that seems unnecessary, at least until the FBI decides whether to testify.

Speaking of the FBI: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said FBI Director James Comey will tell him today whether the FBI is actively investigating ties between Russia and Trump's campaign. That announcement, if Comey decides to meet his self-imposed deadline, would be a major public break in the Russian investigations. It would come ahead of the FBI director's testimony in front of the House intelligence committee on Monday.

It also comes ahead of Whitehouse and Sen. Lindsey Graham holding a hearing to discuss Russian interference in the election. Comey will not be testifying, but national security and foreign policy experts, along with the former president of Estonia, will tell the Senate's subcommittee on crime and terrorism how Russia has influenced democracies around the world. Graham, the subcommittee's chairman, is expected to warn the FBI to comply with requests for information. Graham has also threatened to issue subpoenas for information if needed.

The status of the American Health Care Act rollout

The math is simple: House Speaker Paul Ryan needs 216 votes to pass the AHCA and send it to the Senate. That means Republican leaders can lose no more than 21 votes to advance their bill. A split between moderates and conservatives is increasingly raising questions over whether the current bill can pass.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have yet to say they'll back the bill. Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jody Hice told Fox Business Tuesday that the plan "has some flaws." Rep. Ted Yoho, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, said he "could not support the bill as it is right now." Moderate south Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will vote "no" on the AHCA. In the Senate, things still don't look good. A dozen Republican senators had criticized the bill as of Tuesday, and if three of them defect, the bill will fail.

Among Trump's staunchest supporters, alarm bells are ringing. Conservative talk radio, Breitbart and other outlets are signaling to the White House that Ryan's plan is a "political trap." The Washington Post has more on the right trying to influence Trump on health care reform.

Ryan signaled Tuesday the current bill may change. In an interview on Fox News, Ryan said "of course" Republican leaders are open to "some modifications" to the bill. The latest committee vote on the AHCA will happen Thursday.

A legal battle over Trump's travel ban

At least half a dozen states are challenging Trump's latest executive order limiting immigration and travel from six countries. On Wednesday, federal judges in Seattle and Maryland will hear challenges to the implementation of the president's ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries. The order is set to go into effect on Thursday.

News and insight you cannot miss:

•  The Trump administration is moving aggressively to pursue a peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians. (Los Angeles Times)

•  Planned Parenthood is planning to spend $1 million in advertising against Trump and proposals to strip the organization's federal funding. (Politico)

•  An Oklahoma senator who has long railed against the reality of climate change is helping to shape American environmental policy. (Washington Post)

•  It has been six years since the Syrian civil war began. Mic compiled photos of the grim period in the country's history. (Mic)

•  Artists who were slated to perform at the South by Southwest festival have been denied entry to the United States. (Jezebel)