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Editorial: Emails from Russia with love prompt Trump questions

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow on July 25, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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If Russia is working for Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, common sense says the American public has a right to know the details of Trump’s business interests with wealthy and connected Russians.

Now more than ever, Trump should release his tax returns, as every major party presidential candidate has done for 36 years. Let’s see whether, as reported recently, Trump has a significant financial dependence on Russian money from persons with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Cold War is over, but Putin doesn’t seem to know it, and managing relations with a difficult Russia will remain a major challenge for the next president.

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Strong evidence, according to Washington Post and New York Times sources, indicates Russian intelligence agencies were behind cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in the leaking of some 20,000 emails, many of them embarrassing to Democratic leaders. The leaks last weekend seemed timed to disrupt proceedings at the Democratic National Convention, to Trump’s advantage. At the same time, we should stress, there is zero evidence that Trump or his campaign had anything to do with the leaks.

Trump has made clear his admiration for Putin, describing the throwback, KGB-trained autocrat as a strong leader. And there is no doubt Trump, who sees Russia as a place to do business, has sent friendly political signals Putin’s way. Trump has expressed doubts, for example, about America’s commitment to NATO if he were president. And while his campaign generally ignored the drafting of the Republican Party’s official platform, the Washington Post reports, it took a special interest in adding language about U.S. policy toward Ukraine — bringing the platform in line with Russian policy.

Agree with Trump or not — and we’d say he’s dead-wrong about weakening America’s commitment to NATO — this sort of Russia-courting is open and public. Voters will make of it what they will. But Trump’s financial dealings with wealthy Russians with close ties to Putin are far less open or public. A look at his tax returns in recent years might clarify the depth of those dealings. Certainly what Trump has released so far — a one-time, 92-page financial disclosure form that lacks much of the detail of an IRS tax return — tells us little.

Talking Points Memo, the liberal but respected journalism website, notes that Trump in recent decades has turned increasingly to Russian money to finance his real estate projects, as major banks have soured on him. He and his family have traveled to Russia in search of business opportunities. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The New York Times, in an examination in April of one big Trump project, the Trump SoHo building in Manhattan, reported on lawsuits that alleged that millions of dollars in funding came from “secret financing” from Russia and Kazakhastan, and from wealthy Russians “in favor” with Putin.

Every candidate for president should be transparent about his or her personal finances. Any decision he or she might make in the Oval Office could affect their own bottom line. The daily conflicts of interest are obvious. In Trump’s case, his tax returns might also reveal how much he has paid in taxes, whether he is as wildly wealthy as he claims to be, and how much he has given to charity.

On Monday, Trump said the notion that Russia leaked the DNC emails in order to help him is a “joke” — and that may well be, but we wouldn’t put it past the likes of Putin. As the latest Russian Olympics doping scandal also reminds us, Putin is still not above those Cold War dirty tricks.

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