What's in Trump's tax returns: Russia ties, the Mob?
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It’s been a very entertaining couple of weeks in politics, but hiding just behind the septic tank explosion that was theRepublican National Convention, and the wonky nerd prom of the DNC, lays an important yet overlooked story.

For the first time in forty years, a candidate for President on a major party ticket has bucked the modern trend and refused to release their tax returns.

That candidate is none other than Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE.

The issue first flared up in the primaries several months ago when Trump became the last major candidate in the field not to share his returns with voters. At the time, he claimed he couldn’t release them, as they were under audit by the IRS (because nothing should reassure people that you’re on the up and up more than being subject to an IRS audit.)

There’s just one problem with that, the IRS pointed out an audit does not prevent anyone from releasing their returns. His response to this was to throw some red meat to his supporters and threaten to dissolve the IRS should he become President.

Anyway, on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign dropped even this polite but discredited fiction and just came out with it; nothing will make Donald Trump release his tax returns. Nothing.

Well good. I’m glad we could clear that up. But it leaves the question open as to why Donald Trump, business mogul extraordinaire, whose entire campaign is underwritten by the promise that he will bring the same sort of competence, vision, and hard-nosed negotiating brilliance to the White House that he’s employed to such great success in the board room for thirty years doesn’t want to prove his executive acumen in the simplest, most direct way possible.

I have a working hypothesis. He won’t release his tax returns, because he can’t. Because to do so would only serve to prove his entire campaign, indeed his entire public persona, is based on a series of deceptions. Here are the three most damaging revelations I believe wait inside The Donald’s returns:

1. He’s not a billionaire: For many years, we’ve heard about Donald Trump’s vast business empire and his incalculable fortune. He often boasts at campaign events to be worth north of ten billion dollars. Which would certainly be impressive… if it were true.

Here’s the thing, it probably isn’t true. Trump’s wealth has been heavily reliant on licensing the prestige of his name for many years, slapping it onto other people’s projects rather than building his own and inking TV deals that trade on his celebrity. Indeed, Trump himself has long said that his brand is his most valuable asset. But in the wake of some of his more incendiary comments on the campaign trail, those deals are becoming increasingly difficult to come by.

Consider that in just the last year, Trump has lost Celebrity Apprentice with ABC, saw Univision and other networks pull his Miss USA pageant, and sat by as the PGA moved from one of his courses to Mexico.

Trump has spent the last year dragging his most valuable asset through the mud, and there are plenty of signs that it’s having a real impact on opportunities to cash in on his fame. Many financial experts such as Forbes and Fortune estimate his worth to be closer to four billion dollars, far below his eleven-digit claims. There are even some that doubt he breaks the billion mark. And moreover, there are signs that the vast majority of that wealth is tied up in non-liquid assets such as real-estate. Being worth ten billion dollars, and having access to ten billion dollars are two very different things.

Considering that so much of Trump’s support is predicated on the assumption that his vast wealth was a product of his own hard work, confirmation that he’s been consistently and dishonestly over-representing his fortunes would cause a blow to the public’s confidence in his leadership almost as incalculable as his net worth.

2. He doesn’t pay taxes: This one we have some legitimate evidence to support. The Washington Post reported that Trump paid no taxes for a two-year period in the 1970s, according to tax returns Trump turned over when applying for casino license in the early 1980s. Another look at tax documents from the 1990s, this time done by Politico, showed Trump again didn’t paid no income tax for a two-year period. None. I guess we should just be glad he didn’t ask for a rebate while he was at it.

There’s little reason to assume that he’s changed his ways in the years since. Indeed, much like his boasts about using bankruptcy laws to enrich himself, Trump has often bragged about finding creative ways to pay back as little into the country that has sustained him and made his enormous wealth possible as he could. His campaign has gone so far as to openly admit that one of the reasons for withholding his returns is because they believe Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election partially due to the damage Governor Romney inflicted on himself by releasing his taxes.

And there’s reason to believe they’re right. When it became public knowledge that Romney, despite his impressive wealth, had managed to pay as little as fourteen percent effective income tax in 2011, it created a feeding frenzy among the media and blogosphere. The public perception of Governor Romney as an out-of-touch one-percenter who refused to pay it forward stuck with him through the rest of the season. His campaign never fully recovered from this and the now infamous “Forty-Seven Percent” comment, a lesson Trump’s team seems to have taken to heart.

So why wouldn’t Trump want to let us know how much he pays in taxes? Because he’s afraid of being perceived as too generous? Please.

3. He may be in hock to some very questionable people: This one is the very hardest to support. However, it is well known that most of the major U.S. based banks haven’t done business with Donald Trump in a very long time. He’s proven to be a bad bet, with multiple bankruptcies on his record, failed casinos, and a history of screwing over vendors and other small businesses. Just last week he was ordered to pay more than a quarter million dollars in legal fees and past due payments to south Florida painters, joining accusations from businesses as diverse as caterers and piano vendors that Trump’s modus operandi is just to do whatever he can to avoid paying his bills.

Which circles back to a point I made earlier, that Trump has a cash-flow problem. When the majority of your wealth is tied up in skyscrapers, golf courses, and a shrinking pool of licensing deals, accessing it can be a real problem. As a result, Trump would need loans to take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves. Loans that his diminished reputation and sketchy repayment history has made difficult to obtain. For the last twenty years, Trump’s go-to has been German-based Deutsche Bank, but even that relationship has soured as Trump has burned them on several occasions and the bank has faced its own pressures and troubles from outside their relationship.

So where does a cash-poor billionaire go when they need a quick payday loan? Well, if you’re ultra-conservative George Will, you’d guess Russian oligarchs. If you live in New York City, you might guess the Mafia. Who’s right? Neither, both, who knows? The only thing that could disprove the accusations are being withheld by the candidate.

But, it would go a long way to explain why, a candidate for the Presidency, running for the party that spent decades whipping the population into an anti-communist frenzy, is so openly fawning of former KGB agent and proto-dictator Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump has a history of praising Putin’s leadership style of assassinating political rivals, journalists, and jailing bands named after a certain delightful part of the female anatomy for being critical of his tyranny, comparing his BFF to the imagined “weakness” of American’s sitting President. Putin, for his part, has all but endorsed Trump for President.

Nor does this mutual lovefest stop there. Trump has in recent days come out in favor of abandoning America’s commitments of mutual defense under our treaty with NATO, encouraged Russian intelligence services to conduct cyber warfare operations against our country in order to manipulate a Presidential election, and to suggest that he would legitimize Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea and roll back associated sanctions against Moscow.

Individually, any one of these stances are insane. But taken together, they can only be understood as a deliberate attempt to undermine the interests of the U.S. and her allies for the benefit of a hostile foreign power. What other possible justification for the complete abandonment of Republican foreign policy orthodoxy dating to the Second World War could Trump have other than some secret indebtedness?

Again, all of this is just a hypothesis. I don’t have direct, irrefutable proof of any of these contentions, only extrapolation based upon what little we know of the man’s fortunes that can be gleaned from the public record. I could be completely wrong. And it would be really easy for Donald Trump to disprove all of these wild and baseless accusations.

Just release your tax returns, Donny.

Tomlinson is an author and comedian. Follow him@stealthygeek.


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