John Colson: Full circle, we’re back to Trump’s tax returns
While I was away recently, I was overjoyed to see that the U.S. president’s humiliating, embarrassing and generally unbelievable performance at a Helsinki, Finland, summit last week has at long last renewed calls for public inspection of the president’s tax returns.
This very issue has come up at different conferences and discussions around the country over the past year and a half, including some events at The Aspen Institute, just across town from the offices of this newspaper.
For a primer on the subject, perhaps a determined reader could drop in at the Institute and ask someone in charge for the organization’s files on President Donald Trump’s taxes, his Russia ties and related topics. I’ll bet there’s some interesting reading buried in the Institute’s back files.
But aside from that, and for those memory-challenged readers out there, the Helsinki summit was the one in which Trump basically let the world know that he favors the thinking of Russia’s Vladimir Putin over that of the U.S. intelligence community on certain topics, and that he does not believe Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Oh, yeah, he later recanted on that last item, saying at one point last week that he really does believe Russia interfered in the election.
Then, in his preferred method of communicating with the world outside the White House, Trump returned to form, tweeting that the idea that Russia meddled in the election is a “hoax” and part of the Democrats’ attempt to explain why they lost the election.
Of course, the Democrats did not lose the election; Hillary Clinton won it by more than 3 million votes. But the Republican Party had solidified its gerrymandered rigging of election districts around the country following the 2010 Republican wave, with the result that Trump won by virtue of an outmoded, anti-democratic institution known as the Electoral College.
And, of course, Trump continued to blame Clinton and Barack Obama for, well, just about every trouble that currently plagues his administration. And he once again trotted out his habitual derision of “Crooked Hillary” for all sorts of things, a dodge that we all know is a tried-and-true way of exciting his base, which Clinton once labeled accurately as a “basket of deplorables.”
Anyway, I have been heartened to see that even some Republicans are now wondering whether The Donald is somehow under Putin’s thumb in ways that we, the U.S. electorate, should know about.
Some observers, of course, have been saying ever since Trump’s improbable election win that there was something fishy going on behind the deference, even hero-worship that Trump sends Putin’s way nearly every week.
It is relatively common knowledge that Trump essentially went bankrupt a couple of decades ago, to the point that even his banker friends in New York would not loan him any more money after a number of disastrous development deals collapsed of their own corrupt weight.
It also is well known that Trump turned to Russian criminals and oligarchs for financial backing as the only way to pull his businesses out of their precipitous slide toward financial ruin.
Where it all gets real murky, unfortunately, is in trying to pick apart the network of ties between Russian billionaires and the Russian intelligence community, of which Putin is very much a deeply embedded participant.
If you’d like to see some of this parsed out in fairly clear language, I recommend a Google search for “Trump’s financial ties to Russia,” and you’ll get more than you ever bargained for.
Suffice it to note that the ties are deep and they apparently go back more than a decade, to the time when Trump desperately needed cash to keep his Trump Soho project in New York City from going under in a huge wave of red ink and bad dealings.
There was the sale of a Trump property in Florida to a Russian oligarch for more than twice the property’s value; there were Donny and Eric Trump’s repetitious assertions that Russian money was “pouring in” to prop up Trump World; there was the fact that The Donald openly courted Putin while staging a beauty pageant in Moscow; and then there was the story of how Trump tried to put together a real estate deal in Moscow even as he, The Donald, was seeking the Republican nomination for president.
On top of all that, Trump has surrounded himself with campaign aides, support staff and others who have their own deep ties to the Russian president and his mafia — the names Michael Flynn and Carter Page come most immediately to mind.
The question, of course, is whether any of this can be illuminated by an examination of Trump’s tax returns.
I believe, as you may have guessed, that many questions can be answered in this way, although I am sure that there will be perhaps as many new questions spawned as there will be answers to old questions.
I just hope we get the chance to learn those answers and ask those questions.
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