US President Donald Trump walks after arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, April 28, 2017.
SAUL LOEB

Denying Russia ties, Trump’s lawyers point to secret tax returns

Updated
In his interview yesterday with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Donald Trump was asked about whether he or his family “have any accepted investments, any loans” from Russia. The president said, “I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don’t have property in Russia…. I built a great company, but I’m not involved with Russia.”

Note the disconnect between the question and the answer. The anchor asked about money he may have received from Russia, not investments he’s made in Russia.

The Associated Press had a related report this morning, noting fresh pushback from the president’s private legal team.
Lawyers for President Donald Trump’s said Friday that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns do not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” with some exceptions. It’s the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign’s associates.

The attorneys did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns, so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. Their review also notably takes into account only Trump’s returns from the past 10 years, leaving open questions about whether there were financial dealings with Russia in earlier years.

In a letter released to the AP, the attorneys said there is no equity investment by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders.
The “exceptions” apparently includes money he received from selling a home to a Russian billionaire in 2008 and from hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, both of which he mentioned in yesterday’s NBC interview.

And while this is certainly interesting, the assurances from Trump’s lawyers are difficult to accept at face value. They are, after all, pointing to tax returns the president could release, but instead chooses to keep secret for reasons he hasn’t fully explained.

There’s also the suggestion this week from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that reviews of Trump’s business dealings in Russia are part of an ongoing investigation.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget Trump’s Russian ties go back further than 10 years. The New York Times reported earlier this year, “Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987…. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996.”

USA Today reported soon after that Donald Trump Jr. “told investors in Moscow that the Trump Organization had trademarked the Donald Trump name in Russia and planned to build housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi, and sell licenses to other developers.” Trump Jr. was quoted saying at the time, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

It’s safe to say today’s AP report won’t make the questions go away.

Postscript: It’s worth noting for context that today’s news appears to be the result of Trump having hired private counsel to respond to questions related to his business’ dealings in Russia. Though it was initially unclear which firm the president hired, the AP article point to work done by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

Second Postscript: The Wall Street Journal’s piece on this included a salient detail I’d neglected to mention. “A Russian would not lend directly to Trump or his businesses,” said Steve Rosenthal, a tax lawyer and senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. “A Russian would, for example, fund a Cyprus corporation, which would lend to Trump or his businesses, possibly through other intermediary entities.”

Donald Trump and Russia

Denying Russia ties, Trump's lawyers point to secret tax returns

Updated