Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has received approximately $2.3 million from companies that owed money to Trump or one of his businesses but were instructed to pay Trump’s tax-exempt foundation instead, according to people familiar with the transactions.I applaud what Farenthold is doing -- but I don't agree with Josh Marshall, who titles his post about this story "This Looks Really Big." I think it should be big. But the public will shrug it off, because the relevant law is just ambiguous enough to allow people who aren't Trump haters to conclude that there's nothing significant here.
I'll quote Marshall's summary of the story:
Last week we noted that a Trump family aide defended the idea that Trump Foundation money is really Trump's money since often he takes money that's owed to him and directs it to the Foundation....That's where America's eyes will start to glaze over. If there were an easy-to-grasp rule in this case -- divert money to a rich guy's charity and he has to pay taxes on it no matter what -- then a failure on Trump's part to pay taxes on the money cited in Farenthold's article would be seen as a scandal. But Epshteyn cites a High Court ruling saying you can divert money and not pay taxes on it, as long as you don't control what charity the money goes to -- if you just suggest that it goes to a certain charity without instructing that it goes there, apparently you're off the hook. At this point, all Trump and his team have to say is, that he never gave any specific instructions and he gets the benefit of the doubt.
Now it turns out that a lot of the Foundation money does come in just this way. But here's the key. It sounds like Trump is not paying taxes on that income.
It works like this. Trump or one of his businesses is owed money by Company X or Person Y. Trump says 'Don't send the check to me. Just send it to my Foundation.' No problem with that.... But you have to pay taxes on that money because it's your income.
Here's where it gets weird. Fahrenthold got a series of false explanations from Trump representative Boris Epshteyn about how this money was handled. When Fahrenthold presented Epshteyn with proof of these diversions, Epshteyn shifted gears and said the diversions did happen but they were fine.
At this point, Epshteyn cited an 1942 tax case....
And that's exactly what Epshteyn says:
“He’s never directed fees to the foundation,” said Boris Epshteyn, a senior adviser to Trump, who responded on the campaign’s behalf in a phone interview on Saturday. Epshteyn said that what Trump did was provide a service, renounce any fees, and then merely suggest that the other party make a donation to a charity of their choosing.Farenthold tried to press the case, citing, among other things, a fee for a Comedy Central roast in 2011, which was diverted to the charity:
“He’s waived fees from time to time,” Epshteyn said. “He’s never directed it to a specific charity.”
... sometimes, Epshteyn said, a gift arrived at the Trump Foundation.
“He’s Donald J. Trump,” Epshteyn said, explaining why donors had chosen this particular charity.
The Post asked about the 2011 gift from Comedy Central. Back then, Trump had bragged on video that he was getting a big appearance fee. “They paid me a lot of money, and they were very generous. And all of that money goes to charity,” Trump said.Farenthold brought another example:
After The Post brought up the Comedy Central case during the Saturday interview, Epshteyn conceded that Trump had, indeed, controlled where this money went.
It was his income. And, Epshteyn said, he paid taxes on it.
Could he provide proof of that tax payment?
“Absolutely not,” Epshteyn said.
The Post offered the donations recorded from [Richard] Ebers, who was the Trump Foundation’s biggest donor in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Together, his gifts totaled $1.887 million.Farenthold and other reporters can continue to look into this, but as long as there's ambiguity about the law and about suggesting versus directing, this won't be a scandal for Trump. It might become a legal issue for him down the road, but it's not sufficiently open-and-shut to become a political scandal between now and November.
The two people familiar with that arrangement said Ebers bought tickets and other goods and services from Trump. They said it was unclear if Trump himself or one of his employees instructed Ebers to pay the foundation instead of Trump.
The Post asked Epshteyn and [canpaign spokeswoman Hope] Hicks if Trump had paid taxes on the money received from Ebers. They did not answer the question, beyond saying that Trump had followed “all applicable rules and regulations.”
I'd love to say that this will become a major issue, but I don't see it.