Call it the $100 million exception.
President Trump had his lawyers release a letter concerning his personal income taxes to say that there are no payments from the Russians – with a few exceptions, more than $100 million worth.
The letter was generated for Trump by an outside law firm in response to an inquiry from Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who heads one of the Congressional committees investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The letter from attorney’s Sheri A. Dillon and William F. Nelson of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, which is addressed to Trump, was cited by the president yesterday in an interview with NBC as proof he has no hidden financial ties to Russia.
Of course, the information in the letter conveniently only reflects Trump’s personal income and not the money made by the Trump Organization.
It says that Trump has not had an equity investment in Russian entities and has no debts to Russian lenders since 2005. However, it does note income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow of $21.2 million and income from the sale of Florida property he had acquired for $41 million to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95 million.
The letter also states that Trump received other payments over the past decade from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf and Trump licensed products such as wine, ties, and mattresses. The lawyers called those payments “immaterial.”
Unfortunately for Trump, tax experts are questioning how “Russia” was defined. Many Russian companies operate through subsidiaries or corporate shells in countries like Cyprus, The Netherlands or the British Virgin Islands.
“You would have to dig down to books and records of underlying entities to see components,” Edward Kleinbard, a tax law professor at the University of Southern California told the New York Times, to determine the real sources of income.
“Asserting that TTO (The Trump Organization) counter-parties are not ‘Russian,'” added Kleinbard, “is genuinely meaningless.”
In other words, this letter is another of Trump’s meaningless smoke screens. It appears he is giving out information but it is done in a way that leaves room for a lot of important data and connections to be omitted.
Trump still needs to come clean and release his entire tax returns for the past years, including all attachments, if he wants to prove the truth of his claims he has not done business with Russia. And while he is at it, he should authorize the release of the tax returns of The Trump Organization as well.
Until he does that, this letter and his claims continue to reek of, as he likes to say, “fake news.”