Two weeks ago, Adam Schiff issued what he described as “friendly” subpoenas to several financial institutions including Deutsche Bank, seeking records related to Donald Trump and his businesses.
The move, carried out in coordination with Maxine Waters’s House Financial Services Committee, was one of the more aggressive steps yet by Democrats when it comes to crossing what the president has variously described as “red lines” he arbitrarily drew around his finances and business dealings.
Waters has zeroed in on Trump’s relatonship with Deutsche, one of the few banks willing to deal with the president. Despite belabored efforts on the part of Trump’s fans, boosters, friendly media outlets and various fringe financial portals, the cold, hard reality of the situation is that the rest of Wall Street wants nothing to do with Trump due to multiple defaults and bankruptcies which have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. That’s your “legendary” businessman.
“We know that Deutsche Bank is the only bank that will lend money to the president of the United States because of his past practices”, Waters told CNBC in February.
Internal deliberations at Deutsche regarding Trump (as detailed in several media reports this year) paint a picture of cautious executives, wary of the myriad risks associated with the president. For instance, Deutsche reportedly turned down then-candidate Trump for a loan in 2016 out of concern for the bank’s “reputation”.
Subsequent reports suggested Deutsche once contemplated extending the repayment dates on at least three loans until after Trump’s theoretical second term would end, fearing he might default, leaving the bank in the decidedly unenviable position of having to decide between taking a loss and seizing the property of a sitting US president. Eric Trump insisted those reports were false. He also lashed out at Schiff’s subpoena, calling it “an unprecedented abuse of power and simply the latest attempt by House Democrats to attack the president and our family for political gain”.
Waters doesn’t agree. “The potential use of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern”, she said, in a statement issued on the same day as the subpoenas. “The Financial Services Committee is exploring these matters, including as they may involve the president and his associates, as thoroughly as possible pursuant to its oversight authority, and will follow the facts wherever they may lead us.”
Well, on Monday, Trump, Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr. sued Deutsche and Capital One in an effort to block them from complying with congressional record requests.
“This case involves congressional subpoenas that have no legitimate or lawful purpose”, the suit reads. “The subpoenas were issued to harass President Donald J. Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses and the private information of the president and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage. No grounds exist to establish any purpose other than a political one.”
That, frankly, is a lie. People familiar with the House investigations say the subpoenas are in fact aimed at helping uncover money laundering by Russians and Eastern Europeans.
For their part, Schiff and Waters released a joint statement, castigating the suit as “meritless” – the latest example of the “depths to which President Trump will go to obstruct Congress’s constitutional oversight authority.” Here’s a short excerpt:
As a private businessman, Trump routinely used his well-known litigiousness and the threat of lawsuits to intimidate others, but he will find that Congress will not be deterred from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities. This lawsuit is not designed to succeed; it is only designed to put off meaningful accountability as long as possible.
That last bit is key. It’s the same strategy Trump is using to stonewall Ways and Means on the request for his tax returns. There is clearly an oversight interest in Trump’s financial records and in the case of Richard Neal, tax attorneys generally argue that Treasury and DoJ have almost no legal ground to stand on when it comes to refusing to deliver Trump’s returns.
Read more on the effort to keep Trump’s tax returns from Congress
Hilariously, Monday’s complaint tacitly attributes statements to Democrats that lawmakers did not in fact utter. Have a look at this screengrab (the full suit is embedded below):
That is wholly ridiculous. Trump’s lawyers are actually trying to cite the media’s interpretation of Democrats’ intent as evidence.
As a general matter of strategy, Trump’s lawyers are parroting the same line Mnuchin has used in defending the decision to withhold the president’s returns – they are couching everything in terms of a fear-driven message designed to make the public believe that Congress will come after your tax returns and financial documents next.
“Every citizen should be concerned about this sweeping, lawless invasion of privacy”, a statement from the president’s attorneys reads.
The absurdity of that assertion can’t be overstated. This has absolutely nothing to do with “every citizen” and everything to do with one “citizen”, who is apparently prepared to move heaven and earth in order to keep lawmakers from looking under the hood of his finances.
Keep in mind that in this context, there is no difference between “lawmakers” and “the public”. In other words, “every citizen” should in fact “be concerned”, but not because the subpoenas suggest Democrats are trying to set a precedent that will allow unfettered access to random people’s financial documents. Rather, because this all-hands-on-deck effort by Trump to obstruct congressional oversight is effectively an effort to keep the public in the dark.
Monday’s lawsuit comes hot on the heels of legal proceedings filed by Trump against Elijah Cummings, whose efforts to obtain “statements of financial condition” from Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, infuriated the White House.
As Bloomberg notes, Deutsche “has already begun the process of giving documents related to loans made to Trump or some of his businesses to the New York state attorney general, who is conducting her own probe, [but] the bank hasn’t yet handed over any client-related records to the House committees and will wait for the outcome of the legal proceedings.”
“We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations”, the bank said Tuesday.
Again, this should be seen for precisely what it is: An effort to stall and otherwise prevent Congress from seeing things that potentially implicate Trump and his businesses in some manner of shenanigans. It has absolutely nothing to do with overriding concerns about protecting the public interest by taking a stand against undue invasions of privacy.