Representative Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Committee on Financial Services, has been pushing since March to connect dots that could link Donald Trump, his associates, Germany’s Deutsche Bank, and Russian oligarchs. Now it appears she’s getting some help from Robert Mueller, the Russiagate special counsel, whose office has issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank over accounts linked to various associates of the president.
The twin efforts could determine whether or not various members of Trump’s inner circle benefited from the flow of money-laundered funds from Russian oligarchs, through Germany and Cyprus, to Trump-linked businesses and people in Trump’s inner circle, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
To understand why this might be important, consider two facts: First, Deutsche Bank was caught red-handed in a money-laundering scheme that involved $10 billion in dirty money from Russian oligarchs, and in 2017 it was forced to pay fines totaling $671 million to New York’s Department of Financial Services, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, and the US Federal Reserve. Second, since the 1990s the German financial colossus has been Donald Trump’s personal go-to piggybank, which has supplied Trump and his companies with a staggering $3.5 billion in loans and loan-guarantee agreements since 1998.
For Waters, and perhaps for Mueller, too, the question is: Are these two things related? Did Trump, Kushner, and their partners—along with others in Trump World, including Paul Manafort, Gen. Michael Flynn, and Wilbur Ross, the billionaire who serves as Trump’s commerce secretary—benefit from illegal Russian money that flowed through Deutsche Bank? If so, does President Trump have a hidden obligation to Russia or to Russian oligarchs? And why did the official US investigation of Deutsche Bank’s illegal transactions, conducted under the auspices of Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department, go “dormant” earlier this year?
Those questions are especially relevant because of two major recent transactions between Deutsche Bank, Trump, and Kushner. In the first, the bank loaned Donald Trump $300 million—money that the president still owes the bank—to get him out of a sticky debt situation. And, second, Jared Kushner secured a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank on the eve of last year’s election, in a transaction that, The Nation reported in August, involved a cast of characters tied to the infamous June 6, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between Kushner, Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and an assortment of Russians who’d promised to supply the campaign with “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Since March, Waters has been relentless is demanding that both DOJ and the Republican-controlled committee investigate ties between Deutsche Bank and Trump. In her March 10 letter to Representative Jeb Hensarling, the chairman of the Committee on Financial Services, she and four other Democrats wrote:
The potential magnitude of Deutsche Bank’s Russian money-laundering scheme should not be downplayed in the same manner in which this Administration has attempted to downplay its Kremlin connections. The threat to our democracy that could result from the seemingly endless, complex web of business dealings woven among Trump, his advisors, and Russia should not be ignored. It is incumbent upon this Committee to conduct a thorough, objective investigation into the Deutsche Bank money-laundering scheme given the Bank’s atrocious history of lax compliance and, more importantly, the mounting evidence surrounding the new Administration’s ties to Russia.
Getting no response, Waters dispatched a series of follow-up letters. In an August 11 letter, she demanded a wide range of documents relevant to the issue, adding: “These concerns are not merely theoretical. Rather, they are supported by the fact that the President’s campaign is under a criminal investigation related to its potential collusion with the Russian government to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election.… these facts underscore the need for a bipartisan investigation into the Bank’s Russian money laundering activity and its review of its unusual loans to the President, his family and his associates.”
Finally, exasperated, and concerned over reports that the Justice Department had let the Deutsche Bank inquiry go cold, in a December 1 letter Waters wrote to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy US attorney general, asking Rosenstein why DOJ had not moved forward with the investigation. “Not only is the President a client of Deutsche Bank, but so too are his daughter, Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Kushner. In fact, the Bank lent Jared Kushner’s real estate company more than $280 million only one month prior to the 2016 election, which was not properly disclosed,” she wrote. And Waters asked a series of very pointed questions about Deutsche Bank’s “mirror trading” scheme, the laundering mechanism it used in turning the oligarchs’ rubles into dollars—indeed, the very same questions that Mueller’s office might itself be asking right now:
(1) Is the investigation into Deutsche Bank’s role in a $10 billion Russian mirror trading scheme still ongoing? If not, what is its present status? (2) What has Attorney General Sessions’ involvement been with the investigation since his appointment? (3) Has President Trump, or his immediate family or any other campaign or White House official inquired about or sought to influence the investigation of Deutsche Bank in any way, including any other potential investigations into the Bank? (4) Is the Department committed to determining who participated in and who may have benefited from the Deutsche Bank Russian mirror trading scheme? (5) Should there be any nexus between Deutsche Bank, the Russian mirror trading scheme and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, will the information be provided to Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
Mueller, who’s methodically examining the question of Trump-Russia collusion, has now entered the Deutsche Bank picture, and he—unlike Waters, who’s been unable to get her committee chairman to demand documents—has subpoena power. According to reporting by Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, Mueller has demanded that Deutsche Bank hand over information about transactions involving “people or entities affiliated with President Donald Trump.” Two subsequent reports from the Journal added that among the records sought by Mueller are those linked to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. (Manafort, who served as Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, has already been indicted by Mueller over charges tied to money-laundering, and Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser, signed a plea agreement with Mueller and is cooperating with the Russiagate investigation.)
So far—and contrary to some initial reports, which claimed that Mueller’s Deutsche Bank subpoenas were aimed at Trump directly—the subpoena from Mueller apparently involves only people in Trump’s orbit, but not the president himself. That could change, however, as Mueller’s inquiry moves forward. As Reuters reported earlier this month:
A U.S. official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether Deutsche Bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that now are under U.S. and European Union sanctions.… Holding Trump debt, particularly if some of it was or is coming due, could potentially give Russian banks some leverage over Trump, especially if they are state-owned, said a second U.S. official familiar with Russian intelligence methods.
Mueller is well aware that since last summer Trump has been warning that any effort to investigate his or his family’s finances would cross a “red line,” as Trump told The New York Times in an interview in July, and that crossing that line could lead the president to fire Mueller. Indeed, there is growing concern that Trump is actively considering ousting the special prosecutor, despite the fact that doing so could trigger a political Armageddon. Over the weekend, Representative Jackie Speier, who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, echoed worries that Trump will fire Mueller just before Christmas. Trump himself has denied that he intends to do so.