There are varying ways to deal with President Trump and the gravitational pull of his corruption. One is exemplified by Deutsche Bank. Another is exemplified by George T. Conway III, the husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Bear with us on this one.
If you’re at all familiar with Trump’s financial history, you know that Deutsche Bank looms large. That’s the German institution to which, it would not be an exaggeration to say, Trump owes the survival of his real estate business. After he bankrupted a couple of casinos and became known in the financial world as a liar, a con man and somebody you’d be a fool to loan money to, Deutsche Bank was still there for him. In the early 2000s, when no other bank would loan Trump the hundreds of millions of dollars he needed for his large projects, Deutsche Bank kept doing so.
But why? Some light is shed on the answer in an investigation by David Enrich of the New York Times, and what it reveals could be a metaphor for much of Trump's life, especially his political life.
According to Enrich, Deutsche Bank kept loaning Trump money even though he was lying to them and they knew it — and even as he screwed them over and sued them. What Deutsche Bank’s approach embodies is similar to those who allow themselves to get drawn into Trump’s orbit of corruption, even though they are fully aware of the risks involved.
Here’s the summary:
Over nearly two decades, Deutsche Bank’s leaders repeatedly saw red flags surrounding Mr. Trump. There was a disastrous bond sale, a promised loan that relied on a banker’s forged signature, wild exaggerations of Mr. Trump’s wealth, even a claim of an act of God.
But Deutsche Bank had a ravenous appetite for risk and limited concern about its clients’ reputations. Time after time, with the support of two different chief executives, the bank handed money — a total of well over $2 billion — to a man whom nearly all other banks had deemed untouchable.
When Trump was seeking funding for a tower in Chicago, he claimed he was worth $3 billion, “but when bank employees reviewed his finances, they concluded he was worth about $788 million.” Yet they lent him $500 million to build the project.
Multiple times, Trump would default on a loan or otherwise cost the bank dearly, and one division would sever ties with him, yet he managed to get more money from a different arm of the bank. And multiple times they concluded he was lying to them about his assets, but decided that, for other reasons — such as his income from “The Apprentice,” they’d loan him more money despite his lies.
There’s a degree to which one is inclined to look at this story and say, “Anyone who’s dumb enough to loan money to Donald Trump deserves what they get.” Which may be true. Deutsche Bank wasn’t like Trump’s other marks — the struggling people whose life savings he stole with Trump University, or the small business owners whose bills he refused to pay, or the people seeking to turn their financial lives around that he preyed on with the Trump Institute, or the foreign models he exploited with Trump Model Management, or any of the other victims of his long history of scams and cons.
But this isn’t really about what Deutsche Bank did or didn’t get from their relationship with him. If Trump knowingly submitted false documents in order to obtain loans, that would be a crime. And, indeed, the New York state attorney general has issued subpoenas to the bank covering a number of transactions, including Trump’s failed attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills. You may recall that this came up in Michael Cohen’s recent testimony to Congress. Here’s what happened there, per the Times investigation:
Mr. Trump asked Ms. Vrablic if the bank would be willing to make a loan and handed over bare-bones financial statements that estimated his net worth at $8.7 billion.
Mr. Cohen testified to Congress last month that the documents exaggerated Mr. Trump’s wealth. Deutsche Bank executives had reached a similar conclusion. They nonetheless agreed to vouch for Mr. Trump’s bid, according to an executive involved.
To repeat, over and over the bank knew Trump was lying to them but gave him more money anyway. To be sure, this isn’t much different from the way many Republicans think of him. Sure, he lies about everything all the time. But they’ve decided that they’re going to live with that and go along for the ride, in part because he’s giving them something specific they want, like a bunch of right-wing judges.
But it’s one thing to sacrifice your integrity to stand behind the most corrupt and personally repugnant president we’ve ever had, and it’s another to become a direct party to his misdeeds. I can’t say whether anyone at Deutsche Bank is in legal jeopardy, but I’m guessing that, right now, with law enforcement poking around, some of them are ruing the day they decided to become partners with Trump. They’re hardly alone in that: As Trump’s own former lawyer Cohen testified, “The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
Conway’s insinuations about Trump’s mental state
And that, in turn, led to this new Post story digging into the backstory here.
Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale is now claiming that Trump “doesn’t even know” Conway, as if not having the great privilege of personally knowing Trump is a mark of terrible shame, and that Trump turned down Conway for a job he wanted (hence “loser"). But Conway told The Post that, in fact, he and Trump have had multiple personal interactions. Conway also says he turned down an offer from Trump to work at the Justice Department, because, having seen Trump fire former FBI director James B. Comey in early 2017, he understood that the agency would be under relentless presidential assault for the next two years.
What’s funny is what came next. As The Post report notes:
In a conversation with Trump at the wedding of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in June 2017, Conway said, Trump approached him and complimented him for not taking a job under then-attorney general Jeff Sessions.
“He said to me, I remember it clearly, you were smart not to work for that guy,” Conway said. “He is so weak.”
Trump then ranted for several minutes that Sessions should have never recused himself from the Mueller investigation. “I told him, I’d heard the recusal issue was pretty clear, that Sessions had to recuse himself,” Conway said. “He took great affront at that.”
In other words, Trump, by ranting uncontrollably about Sessions’s failure to live up to his corrupt demand that he act as his personal protector, confirmed that Conway’s assessment had been right — that there would be no way to work at the Justice Department without getting drawn into a bottomless cesspool of a situation stemming from Trump’s corruption.
Something tells us that Conway’s reading of the dangers of getting pulled into Trump’s orbit will be vindicated, while Deutsche Bank’s approach to those dangers will not.