The opening salvo of The New York Times’s big Sunday story about Donald Trump and Deutsche Bank got straight to the point: The bank’s money-laundering watchdogs recommended that multiple overseas financial transactions by Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner be reported to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Executives at Deutsche Bank, however, made no such reports, and the bank took no action against its favored client.
“The nature of the transactions was not clear,” reads the Times report. “At least some of them involved money flowing back and forth with overseas entities or individuals, which bank employees considered suspicious…. [F]ormer Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank’s generally lax approach to money laundering laws.”
“You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” Tammy McFadden, a former Deutsche Bank anti-money-laundering specialist who has filed complaints against the bank’s money-laundering protections with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said in the report. “It’s the D.B. way.”
Just after sunrise on Monday, Trump responded to the Times report via Twitter:
….Now the new big story is that Trump made a lot of money and buys everything for cash, he doesn’t need banks. But where did he get all of that cash? Could it be Russia? No, I built a great business and don’t need banks, but if I did they would be there…and DeutscheBank……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019
…..was very good and highly professional to deal with – and if for any reason I didn’t like them, I would have gone elsewhere….there was always plenty of money around and banks to choose from. They would be very happy to take my money. Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019
“I built a great business and don’t need banks,” he wrote.
“President Donald Trump’s latest personal financial disclosure was just released,” reports Russ Choma for Mother Jones, “showing that Trump, who already owed more money than any other president in history, borrowed millions more in 2018. According to the disclosure, Trump borrowed between $5 million and $25 million from Professional Bank, a small Florida outfit that specializes in construction and real estate loans.”
Donald Trump is a liar, in fact 10,000 times a liar according to the frazzled fact-checkers at The Washington Post. This is axiomatic now: His most ardent supporters adore him for his lies because he does it to “own the libs,” which is what passes for policy in this vacant age. Still, this lie is particularly striking for its wanton absurdity. His financial disclosure report for 2018 came out only four days ago. The Professional Bank loan is right there in the documents. He signed them. The man is not just a liar, but a damn lazy one at that.
Rather than getting lost once again in the endless weeds of the president’s negligible relationship with the truth, it is perhaps better to explore why this Times report is so freighted with potential consequence. Over a span of two decades when just about every other bank refused to loan Donald Trump money, Deutsche Bank provided him with more than $2 billion. The bank persisted even as red flags flew up all over and Trump staggered from financial calamity to financial calamity.
In fact, Trump defaulted on his Deutsche Bank loans twice — in 2004, and again in 2008 — causing the bank to cut bait with the ersatz real estate mogul who lost $1.17 billion between 1985 and 1994. The bank eventually loaned him even more money after the second default because it was intensely interested in expanding within the United States, and having media-savvy Trump as a client was the perfect billboard. “Deutsche Bank had a ravenous appetite for risk,” reports the Times, “and limited concern about its clients’ reputations.”
All warnings were ignored, and now a reckoning appears to be at hand. The symbiotic and less-than-ethical relationship between the president and the bank is now under heavy investigation by multiple agencies and House committees, and in order to lessen the blow Deutsche executives know is coming, they are cooperating fully.
Bill Palmer explains for the Palmer Report blog:
The NY Times story quotes one of the employees who was fired from Deutsche Bank for daring to point out Trump’s money laundering patterns. But this happened to her a couple years ago, and she never spoke up until right now. This suggests that she’s been limited by some kind of nondisclosure agreement. So who leaked this story to the media, thus allowing her to go ahead and speak up? There’s no way to know for sure, but the most logical answer is Deutsche Bank itself.
This all looks bad for Deutsche Bank, of course. If whistleblowers like Tammy McFadden are correct, the bank has spent many years deliberately ignoring massive illegal behavior by its clients in order to maintain high-profile relationships and pump its stateside brand. The fact that its leaders are cooperating means they have finally been convinced the party’s over, and are now trying to stave off even greater calamity. Rep. Maxine Waters (D–California), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, already has some of the documents in question, and will probably have them all before too much time passes.
“In other words,” reports Bill Palmer, “all of the financial improprieties between Deutsche Bank and Donald Trump are about to surface anyway — including the fact that Deutsche thought Trump was a Russian money launderer, and illegally covered it up instead of reporting it. Considering the timing, it feels like Deutsche is trying to get out ahead of this while it still can.”
If this were a “Game of Thrones” episode review, I’d be raving about the plot twist: The Iron Bank of Braavos has sold out the Pretender King! For good or ill, however, this is the real world, and these events are unfolding at the highest levels of finance and government.
Trump is fighting a two-front war to keep his financial documents from being released. His legal team filed two lawsuits to that purpose, one to defend documents in the possession of Deutsche Bank, and another to prevent his accounting firm, Mazars USA, from responding to a subpoena issued by House Democrats. The fight is not proceeding as he had hoped.
Trump wanted his legal action to drag the inquiry out for as long as possible, but Judge Amit Mehta rejected Trump’s argument in the Mazars matter on Monday. “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Judge Mehta wrote in his opinion.
The fight for these documents is not over yet, of course. “We will appeal it,” Trump said of the Mazars decision to White House reporters on Monday afternoon. “It’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”
If it is ultimately revealed that Trump has been laundering money — Russian or otherwise — through his real estate dealings, or if the documents reveal parallel criminal activity, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have little choice but to get off the dime and open impeachment proceedings. According to reports in both Politico and The Washington Post, her own leadership team is now pushing hard for the Speaker to finally reverse her stance on the constitutional remedy.
The pressure is rising, and the old rule still applies: Always follow the money.