Trump lawyers push back against Russia ties in letter
Lawyers for President Donald Trump said Friday that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns did not reflect "any income of any type from Russian sources," but their letter included exceptions related to previously cited income generated from a beauty pageant and sale of a Florida estate.
The letter represented the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign's associates and Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.
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.
The lawyers offered no supporting documents to back up the claims made in the letter.
Trump has refused to release his income tax records, despite pressure from Democrats, breaking with a practice set by his predecessors. The president has said he would release his returns when the Internal Revenue Service completes an audit. The tax returns, the attorneys say, largely reflect income and interest paid by the web of corporate entities that made up The Trump Organization prior to Trump taking office.
Joseph Thorndike, a tax historian and contributing editor to an accounting trade publication, Tax Analysts, said he still believes Trump should release his tax returns like other presidents have and questioned the value of the letter released Friday.
"I'm not sure it does what the president thought it would do," Thorndike said of the letter. "It rules out some of the most obvious things, but it leaves plenty of room."
Thorndike said in general there's no reason to assume that Russia connections, if they existed, would appear on Trump's personal tax returns. "It's not going to be as transparent as that. His financial life and business structure are complicated," he noted.
In the letter released to the AP and dated March 8, the attorneys said Trump's last 10 years of tax returns don't reflect equity investments by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders. Under U.S. tax law, not all financial ties would be required to be reported on a personal tax return.
The letter said the returns do reflect some income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that was held in Moscow and a property sold to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95 million.
The White House said Trump asked his lawyers for the letter to outline information on any ties Trump might have to Russia. The letter was then provided to Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham leads one of the congressional committees investigating Russia's interference in last year's election.
The letter came amid an active FBI probe into the Trump 2016 campaign's possible ties to Russia's election meddling and days after Trump's stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey.
"I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever," Trump said Thursday in an interview with NBC News. "I don't have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don't have property in Russia."
The president said he "had dealings over the years," including the Miss Universe pageant and the sale of a home to "a very wealthy Russian." ''I had it in Moscow long time ago, but other than that I have nothing to do with Russia," he said, referring to the pageant.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said "Trump's attempt to hide his Russia connections is misleading and pathetic."
The unnamed Russian billionaire cited by the Trump company's lawyers is Dmitry Rybolovlev, whose financial empire springs from his companies' production of potash, often used for fertilizer.
Trump had purchased the 62,000 square-foot estate for $41.35 million in 2004 and he sold the mansion to Rybolovlev in July 2008 for $95 million. The deal was widely reported at the time, including by The Associated Press.
When Trump was pressed during a campaign conference last year about his ties to Russia, he said: "You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach," adding that "I sold it to a Russian for $100 million."
The letter, written by attorneys Sheri Dillon and William Nelson from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, simultaneously leaves open the possibility of other Russian ties while attempting to dismiss them.
The letter doesn't vouch for any of Trump's personal federal tax returns that predate the past decade. The attorneys also write that over the last 10 years, it is likely that the Trump Organization sold or rented condos, or other products, that "could have produced income attributable to Russian sources."
"With respect to this last exception, the amounts are immaterial," the attorney wrote.
Dillon worked with the Trump Organization to develop plans for the organization's future and addressed reporters in January at a New York news conference before Trump's inauguration. Her law firm was honored by Chambers & Partners' 2016 Chambers Europe guide as Russia Law Firm of the Year.
Associated Press writers Chad Day and Stephen Braun contributed to this report.
View the letter: http://apne.ws/2r1WBX6