President Trump’s lies come in a hundred varieties, from the trivial to the juvenile to the slanderous to the gruesome. But every once in a while he says something that sounds a lot like the kind of lie we’re used to hearing from other, more conventional politicians when they get caught doing something wrong and try to deny it.
That’s what one has to conclude from the way he is reacting to the latest revelation about his weirdly suspicious relationship with Deutsche Bank. In case you haven’t followed this story, after a series of bankruptcies and the widening understanding in the finance world that you’d be crazy to loan money to him given his long track record as a liar and a con artist, by the late 1990s Trump found himself unable to get financing for projects from any U.S. bank.
Deutsche Bank, then desperate to increase its business in the United States and with some flexible ideas about both risk and ethics, became the only bank that would lend to him.
What was so remarkable about their relationship was that even after Trump defaulted on loans from them, they continued to give him money, as one division of the bank would swear off dealing with him and he’d find another division to pick up where the last had left off. But according to a new report in the New York Times, there’s yet another twist:
Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.
The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.
But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government.
So it isn’t just that Deutsche Bank was being dumb in loaning Trump money; this raises the question of whether there may have been money laundering going on. There have long been suspicions about Trump on this score, particularly because many of his properties have been favored destinations for Russian oligarchs and mobsters looking to move money out of their home country. And Deutsche Bank has in the past been a conduit for Russian money laundering, for which they have paid huge fines to regulators.
Not only that, the fact that the transactions tagged by Deutsche Bank employees also involved the Trump Foundation is its own red flag, since that operation was essentially a scam from top to bottom.
So how did Trump react to this news? As the article stresses, as suspicious as these transactions may have appeared, it’s possible that upon a complete investigation there would turn out to be nothing inappropriate about them. Which means that Trump could have just dismissed the story as some pencil-pushers in the bank arguing with other pencil-pushers about something that came to nothing.
Instead, Trump reacted with a long, angry tweetstorm that started this way:
The idea that banks were eager to loan money to Trump is simply a lie; the fact that he was shut out by all the major banks has been extensively reported. But the question it raises is: Why is Trump so freaked out by investigations into Deutsche Bank?
You may recall that in April, he sued Deutsche Bank to try to force officials there not to comply with a congressional subpoena for records relating to his relationship with them. As I keep saying in different contexts, if the records he’s trying to keep secret actually showed nothing more than that he’s a successful and smart businessman, he’d be eager to make them public. The fact that he wants to keep them hidden is proof that there’s something suspicious going on.
But we shouldn’t take those suspicions too far. While it’s possible something criminal went on, it’s also possible the truth is merely embarrassing. We’ve seen how desperate Trump is to maintain the image of himself as fabulously wealthy and successful, and the lengths to which he’ll go to push back against any information that damages that image. When a recent report showed that he reported losses of more than $1 billion over a 10-year period, his defense was essentially that he isn’t a terrible businessman but was in fact shrewdly cheating on his taxes.
When it comes to Russian money laundering, it’s also possible that Trump and his properties were conduits for money laundering, but he isn’t criminally culpable. He may have known what was going on but decided to turn a blind eye to it. Last year, McClatchy reported:
Buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City. … Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.
Even the Trumps aren’t dumb enough to think all that money was pure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they broke the law.
At a minimum, however, this is one more story that demonstrates just how profoundly corrupt Trump is. When the best thing you can say about the president of the United States is that he’s trying to hide records only because making them public would show that he has also been lying about his wealth and dealing with shady foreign characters but may not have actually committed crimes (at least in this instance), we’re in a sorry place indeed.