Even though Trump is still hiding his tax returns (possibly until he is out of office), this week he was smart enough to rule out one of the more commonly speculated reasons for his nondisclosure – that his tax returns would tie him to Russia. To thwart this rumor, Trump had his tax lawyers issue a letter stating that they have prepared Trump’s taxes the past 10 years, and that his tax returns reflected no income or debt from Russian sources other than the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, the sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian billionaire, and other incidental income from Russian individuals purchasing Trump products (we all know the Soviets love Trump steaks).
Given that Democrats treated Rachel Maddow reading Trump’s two page tax return like it was the opening ceremony to the Olympics, one would think that two major law firm partners attesting to the absence of Russian ties would have been met with a similarly large media impact. However, this news was treated with the excitement of a new Lou Bega album.
Even the few outlets who covered the letter were quick to dismiss the denial as nothing. The Washington Post quoted a tax professor who said the letter was meaningless since Russians could control U.S. entities and Russian loans may be funneled through the Cayman Islands. The website Talking Points Memo wondered why the letter only went back 10 years (clearly the Russian plot to turn a man who guest-acted on Sabrina the Teenage Witch into the Manchurian candidate goes back decades, if not centuries). The columnist also pointed out that the letter does not mention the Ukraine or Kazakhstan – because apparently even Borat is in on this global election conspiracy.
By far the most comical reaction, made by both professional journalists and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, was to tie Trump’s law firm Morgan, Lewis & Brockius, into the Russian plot. Critics quoted Morgan’s website, which boasts that their Moscow office was familiar with Russian law (which makes sense, given it is located in Russia). They also indicted the firm for winning 2016 Russian Law Firm of the year.
But that does not mean that Morgan is an agent for the KGB. Morgan is one of the fifty most respected law firms in the U.S. It is a large international law firm, which tend to have large international offices. It is not uncommon for big law firms to have a presence in Moscow, Myanmar, Qatar or Abu Dhabi. It is entirely likely that the Morgan tax partners who signed the letter had no idea the firm even had a Moscow office. Connecting Trump’s DC lawyers to espionage is like connecting the guy at the Verizon kiosk to the space race because he sells a product vaguely connected to satellites.
While critics of the letter are correct that this carefully crafted attorney statement does not tell the entire story regarding possible Russian dealings, they are missing the fact that the actual tax returns they seek would be similarly flawed. Trump provided an affirmative statement from two law partners that his taxes do not show any Russian dealings. Big law partners, who make around $1.5 million per year, are notoriously conservative. If you asked them to give an opinion that McDonald’s primarily sells hamburgers, you would get a 30 page memo listing 200 reasons why someone could possibly consider a Big Mac not to be a hamburger.
Now it is entirely possible that if you asked Trump’s other attorneys, who handle his corporate structuring and financing, they would tell you that Trump is heavily financed by Boris and Natasha LLC. But the fact that two reputable law partners issued the letter indicates that Trump’s elusive tax returns are unlikely to show any direct ties to Russia.
So then why won’t Trump release his tax returns? One likely scenario is that on paper, he may lose more money than the Fyre Festival. Like many corporations, Trump probably uses accounting to show himself as a terrible business man to avoid taxation. It’s reasonable to surmise that most of his tax returns look similar to the $916 million loss he took in 1995, rather than the $150 million in profit shown on the leaked 2005 returns (and by leaked, I mean the ones Trump almost certainly mailed to Rachel Maddow himself – not since Greg Oden’s enormous dick pic went viral has a leak looked as intentional as Trump’s $38 million tax bill).
Trump simply hates looking bad at business. This is a man who willingly let comedians roast and insult his ridiculous hair, his being fat, and him wanting to bang his daughter – but specifically forbade them from making jokes implying that he wasn’t as rich as he says he is.
Again, it is entirely plausible that Trump received significant loans and equity contributions from Russia, the Ukraine, and Ivan Drago. But that does not mean that the tax letter is meaningless, because it does effectively rule out the possibility that any such ties would be discernible from Trump’s tax returns. It also means the left must search for a new MacGuffin in order to prove their grand global conspiracy. Because with this letter, claims that Trump’s taxes will reveal ties with Russia have the same validity as cries to see Obama’s long form birth certificate.