By Steve Herman
The White House on Tuesday strongly denied that the special prosecutor looking into alleged Russian interference in last year’s election has asked a German bank for records relating to accounts held by Donald Trump and his family members.
“We’ve confirmed this with the bank and other sources” that it is not true, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during the daily briefing. “I think this is another example of the media going too far, too fast and we don’t see it going in that direction.”
A member of the president’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement that “no subpoena has been issued or received.”
However, Deutsche Bank appears to be acknowledging there has been a related request, saying it “takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations into this matter.”
The bank received a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller several weeks ago to provide information on certain transactions and key documents have already been handed over, according to the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt.
Similar details also were reported Tuesday by the Bloomberg and Reuters news agencies, as well as the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Financial Times newspaper Deutsche Bank has begun sending information about its dealings with Trump to U.S investigators.
A person with direct knowledge of the German bank’s actions told the newspaper this began several weeks ago.
“Deutsche could not hand over client information without a subpoena,” said a second person with direct knowledge of the subpoena, according to the newspaper. “It’s helpful to be ordered to do so.”
The subpoenas concern “people or entities affiliated with President Donald Trump, according to a person briefed on the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported in an update to its story.
“I would think it’s something more than a fishing expedition,” says Edwin Truman, a former U.S. Treasury Department assistant secretary for international affairs.
“At a minimum, they know there’s some fish in this pond and they want to know whether they’re nice fish or bad fish,” Truman, a nonresident fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Affairs, tells VOA.
If the reports are true, “this is a significant development in that it makes clear that Mueller is now investigating President Trump’s finances, something that the president has always said would be a red line for him,” says William Pomeranz of the Wilson Center, who teaches Russian law at Georgetown University.
“The substance of any potential charges remains unclear, but Deutsche Bank already has paid significant penalties in a Russian money laundering case, and I am sure that it does not welcome further investigations into its Russia operations,” says Pomeranz, who as a lawyer advised clients on investment in Russia and anti-money laundering requirements.
Relationship with family
The bank has a longstanding relationship with the Trump family, previously loaning the Trump organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures.
Trump had liabilities of at least $130 million to a unit of the German bank, according to a federal financial disclosure form released in June by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
“Special counsel Mueller’s subpoena of Deutsche Bank would be a very significant development,” says Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “If Russia laundered money through the Trump Organization, it would be far more compromising than any salacious video and could be used as leverage against Donald Trump and his associates and family.”
Congressional Democrats, in June, asked the bank to hand over records regarding Trump’s loans, but lawmakers say their request was rebuffed, with the financial institution citing client privacy concerns.
A U.S. official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe, according to Reuters, said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether the 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.
Deutsche Bank, in January, agreed to pay $630 million in fines for allegedly organizing $10 billion in sham trades that could have been used to launder money out of Russia.
Trump earlier this year, when asked if examining his and his family’s finances unrelated to the Russia probe would cross a red line, replied, “I would say yeah. I would say yes.”
Trump, unlike previous U.S. presidents dating back four decades, has refused to make public his U.S. tax returns that would show his year-to-year income. Trump, a billionaire, is the richest U.S. president ever, although some analysts have questioned whether Trump’s assets total $10 billion as he claims.
Before he became president last January, Trump, who still owns an array of companies, turned over the day-to-day operation of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and a longtime executive at the firm.