Disappointing news: There’s No Guarantee Trump’s Tax Returns Would Reveal Russia Ties
Alan Sloan reports in ProPublica:
Every week seems to bring yet another revelation about possible relationships between Russia and people close to Donald Trump. Combine that with the fact that this is the height of tax preparation season, and you can see why lots of people seem obsessed with finding a supposed Russian connection in Trump’s tax returns.
Hence the increased demands for Trump to make his returns public the way presidents and presidential candidates have done since Richard Nixon, but that Trump has refused to do despite initially saying that he would.
However, even if Trump has business ties with Russian oligarchs or the Russian government — please note the “if” because there is nothing suggesting that is the case — it’s highly unlikely that evidence of that would show up in his personal tax returns. That’s the unanimous opinion of three respected tax experts I consulted, none of whom is an apologist for Trump.
A primary reason, they told me, is that Trump does business through hundreds of entities, including partnerships, corporations and LLCs (short for limited liability companies).
If you could read the relevant documents — IRS Forms 1040 and 8938 and Schedules C, E and S — you would see that unless Trump has a personal Russian bank account or shows a gain or a loss on the sale of a Russian security or property, financial results of Russian dealings (if they exist) would likely be lumped in with hundreds of other dealings rather than being broken out specifically.
In fact, searching for a Russian connection in Trump’s returns is a diversion from the real reasons the American public has a stake in seeing them.
We’ll get to those. But first, let’s see what the experts have to say.
“Tax forms don’t require much specificity,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Rosenthal, who has helped news organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post parse Trump tax documents, says that, “You’re not going to see an entry that says, ‘Loan from Russian oligarch.’… Even if you borrowed money directly from the Russian government, you don’t have to say to whom you paid the interest.”
“Trump’s income is derived from the business entities — LLCs, corporations and partnerships — in which he owns interests,” says tax lawyer Bob Lord, an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies who was an informal adviser on tax matters to Bernie Sanders’s campaign.
“It is possible, albeit unlikely, the tax returns of the business entities in which Trump owns an interest might reveal a relationship with Russia or a Russian oligarch,” Lord added. “Because Trump’s personal tax return will reflect only the income or loss flowing to Trump from those entities, his personal tax return would not be a reliable indicator of whether such a relationship exists.”
And now, to our third expert: Bob Willens of Robert Willens LLC, who for decades has helped journalists, including me, understand complex tax and accounting issues. . .