Bipartisan call for Trump to release all Russia related portions of his taxes
In order to evaluate troubling but unsubstantiated allegations of Donald Trump’s activities in Russia, it is time for him to publicly release all portions of his tax returns relating to that country, or to Russian entities or persons. In addition, he should release entire tax returns to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees so that they may do a thorough and complete investigation. He should also release all campaign email to the Intelligence Committees immediately.
We called on a bipartisan basis throughout the campaign for then candidate Trump to release his tax returns consistent with long-standing precedent for all candidates of major political parties. When Senator Harry Reid publicly alluded in October 2016 to the possible existence of the allegations which have now surfaced, we wrote in Politico that the release of Mr. Trump’s taxes had become a national security issue with respect to Russia and otherwise.
Now that the unsubstantiated allegations against Mr. Trump are public, he should at a minimum publicly release those portions of his tax returns relating to Russia or Russian persons, including any itemization, deductions or other information about his Moscow hotel expenses, business entertaining and other activities while in that city. This detail, if any, is not a part of his 104 page candidate financial disclosure, but it may be contained in his tax returns, which are said to number as many as 12000 pages for a single year.
In addition, his tax returns may contain a great deal of other information shedding light upon his ties, if any, to Russia and Russians. That is because, as we noted in our October editorial, “US tax filers with financial dealings outside the country are required to provide detailed information about their foreign business activity to the IRS.” Given Trump’s extensive international business dealings, he surely files some of these forms. For example, under Form 8865, US filers are required to report on certain foreign partnerships. If Trump submitted that form, it may have much information not in his campaign disclosure. That would include foreign agents of any such partnerships in which Trump participates; foreign custodians of those partnerships’ books and records; other partnerships in which the foreign partnerships own interests; transactions between the foreign partnerships and certain partners; the partnerships’ balance sheets; and much more—details that could shed light on Trump’s Russian connections (not to mention other important foreign ones).
To take another example, under Form 8938, US filers are required to report on specified foreign assets. Again, this calls for much more detail than on the campaign disclosure, including breakdowns of foreign deposits, foreign custodial accounts and other foreign assets, including foreign interest, dividends, royalties, income, gains and losses, deductions and credits.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more IRS forms that might reveal details of foreign ties in Trump’s tax returns, such as Forms 3520 (Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts), 8621 (Information Return By Shareholder of a Passive Foreign Investment Co. or Qualified Electing Fund), and 5471 (Information Return with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations). Did he file any of these forms? We should at least know that (as well as what is on them)—but we won’t without seeing his tax filings.
If the public saw all the Russian related portions of Trump’s taxes, we could also check on troubling discrepancies in how he talks about his Russia ties, and how his closest associates do. Trump claims that, “The reason they blame Russia is they are trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know about Russia, but not about the inner workings. I have no business there and no loans from Russia. I have a great balance sheet.” But Trump’s son said in 2008 (long before his father decided to run for president) that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Trump’s tax returns could reconcile the tension between these statements. As we previously wrote, “Even if Trump really does have no loans from Russia and no business in that jurisdiction, what about other financial connections with Russians outside of their land? His statement does not rule out such ties, including shared partnership interests, equity interests, joint ventures or licensing agreements with Russia or Russians—both by Trump and his affiliated companies.”
All of this information would also help the public understand whether Mr. Trump is receiving constitutionally prohibited “emoluments” from Russia or its agents: payments or benefits “of any kind whatever.” Come January 20, these will be expressly forbidden to Mr. Trump by the Constitution, as we have explained elsewhere. His the release of Russia related tax information is highly relevant to knowing whether there have been any forbidden Russian payments or emoluments to him or his businesses in the past and whether they will recur in the future.
We recognize that this point, that Mr. Trump is unlikely to publicly release his tax returns in full. But given the developments of the past 24 hours, he should at a minimum publicly release any Russia or Russian related portions immediately. Moreover, he should release the full returns to the Intelligence Committees, together with all campaign emails, for those committees to review.
Eisen and Painter are the Chair and Vice Chair of CREW’s board and served as the top ethics lawyers in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, respectively