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Trump attorneys' tax letter, take 2: This time it's re Russia

Trump extended interview Lester Holt NBC News May 11 2017
In an exclusive NBC News interview with Lester Holt, the president mentioned the letter, released today, that discusses what his attorneys say show only tangential connections to Russian money. Click image to watch the full NBC news interview.

Still no Donald J. Trump tax returns, but today we got another letter from his lawyers regarding his taxes, specifically whether there was any Russian-sourced income on his filings over the last 10 years.

The letter, from partners Sheri Dillon and William Nelson of the Washington, D.C., branch of international law firm Morgan Lewis, was addressed to Trump and "hereby confirm[ed] the following facts:"

  • The president holds interest as the sole proprietor or principal owner in more than 500 separate entities that collectively comprise The Trump Organization (TTO).
  • Trump operates the businesses almost exclusively through sole proprietorships, S corporations and/or partnerships, meaning that the income, as well as interest paid or received by Trump in connection with the businesses, is reflected on his personal tax returns.
  • Those tax returns do not, "with a few exceptions," show any income of any type from Russian sources.

Neither do the returns, according to the Morgan Lewis lawyers, show any debt owed by Trump or TTO to Russian lenders or any interest paid by Trump to Russian lenders; any equity investments by Russian persona or entities in businesses controlled by Trump or TTO; or any equity or debt investments by Trump or TTO in Russian entities.

Nothing, but…: The few exceptions noted in the letter are Trump's beauty pageant and some Sunshine State real estate.

The 2013 Miss Universe competition was held in Moscow. Overall, that pageant earned $12.2 million, according to the letter, with "a substantial portion" of it attributable to the Moscow event.

The Morgan Lewis letter also cites a 2008 transaction in which Trump Properties LLC sold a Palm Beach, Florida, mansion it acquired in 2005 for approximately $41 million to a Russian billionaire for $95 million.

Also, the attorneys told the president: 

[O]ver the years, it is likely that TTO or third-party entities engage in ordinary course sales of goods or services to Russians or Russian entities, such as sales/rentals/fees for condominiums, hotel rooms, rounds of golf, books or Trump-licensed products (e.g., ties, mattresses, wine, etc.) that could have produced income attributable to Russian sources (such income would not have been separately identified as "Russian" in your books and records and therefore not separately reflected on your tax returns).

The amounts from that last group, according to the law firm, "are immaterial."

Quite material to many: I'm not sure immaterial was the best choice of words, since many folks, both on Capitol Hill and across the country, still want to see Trump's tax returns.

In an interview with the Economist that was published Thursday, May 11, Trump stuck with his argument that "nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters."

However, he did add that he might release his taxes after he serves out his term(s).

"Oh, at some point, I'll release them," Trump said. "Maybe I'll release them after I'm finished because I'm very proud of them, actually. I did a good job."

Actually, Mr. Trump, it was more likely your tax attorneys and accountants, not you, who did the good job on your 1040s.

Plus, who else is thinking too little, too late?

Trump tax & attorney miscellany: A few other things to note regarding Trump's taxes and Russia.

The letter to Trump was copied to Sen. Lindsay Graham. The South Carolina Republican asked former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Monday, May 8, whether he had concerns about Russian ties to Trump's business interests. Clapper said he could not comment because the issue could be a subject of an ongoing investigation.

The unnamed Russian billionaire mentioned in the letter is Dmitry Rybolovlev. His money comes from his companies' production of potash, often used for fertilizer.

This Russian-focused communique is the second letter about Trump's taxes issued by Dillon and Nelson. In March 2016, they sent out written confirmation that the then-candidate's returns were being audited. In fact, the duo wrote that Trump's personal returns "have been under continuous examination by the Internal Revenue Service since 2002, consistent with the IRS's practice for large and complex businesses."

Dillon also made a personal appearance at Trump's media Q&A on Jan. 11 when, in response to concerns about the new president making money from his companies while serving as commander in chief, he announced he would give the federal government any profit from payments by foreign dignitaries who stay in his hotels.

Morgan Lewis was named as "Russia Law Firm of the Year" in the 2016 Chambers Europe guide. The publication is produced by Chambers & Partners, a London-based legal research firm. In announcing the Russian kudos, Morgan Lewis said on its website that its "Moscow office provides full-service business representation for clients, including advice on corporate and finance matters; mergers and acquisitions; transactional finance; litigation and international arbitration; energy and natural resources projects; real estate property transactions; labor and employment issues; immigration; and a wide range of regulatory matters."

Online reaction: As expected in this internet age, this latest letter's reference to the income exceptions immediately sparked a #withfewexceptions hashtag on the president's favorite social media platform,

Finally, and with the clear notation that this is not meant in any way to discount the seriousness of the matter, the best Twitter exchange regarding the attorneys' letter about Trump's Russian business connections focused on attorney William Nelson's name similarity to a favorite son of my native Texas:

Willie Nelson Trump tax letter Twitter Andrew Katz

Willie Nelson Trump tax letter Twitter Brook

Hey, I'd take Willie Nelson's advice on just about anything, with the exception of taxes!

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