President Trump has been insisting for so long that any investigation of his personal finances would cross a “red line” that people may have overlooked the outrageousness of his claim. But this self-declared immunity is about to change.
We’re entering a new phase of the Trump-Russia investigation, where the president’s efforts to contain the probe are failing. Information he tried to suppress about his business and political dealings is emerging, with more to come.
“There are no red lines except what’s necessary to protect the country,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said in an interview Monday. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me he plans to request information, perhaps by subpoena, from Deutsche Bank, a major Trump lender, and that “our work on Trump’s finances has already begun.”
A Deutsche Bank subpoena would be especially sensitive. Trump was enraged by a December 2017 report that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed the bank’s records about its dealings with Trump, telling his then-lawyer John Dowd, “This is bull****!” according to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear.”
The red line apparently held, then. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told Reuters: “No [Deutsche Bank] subpoena has been issued or received.” One government source speculates that Rod Rosenstein, then deputy attorney general, blocked any attempt to compel disclosure of the bank’s Trump file records to avoid getting himself or Mueller fired.
But this ring-fencing of Trump’s finances is ending. Schiff told me: “We do want information from Deutsche Bank, and we have every expectation that they will cooperate with us.”
A Deutsche Bank spokesman reiterated to me a previous statement that the bank “has received an inquiry” from the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees, which are working in tandem, and is talking with those committees “to determine the best and most appropriate way of assisting them … [and] providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations.”
The president’s relationship with Deutsche Bank intrigues investigators for several reasons: Trump turned to the big German bank two decades ago, when U.S. banks wouldn’t extend him more large loans. The Washington Post estimated in 2016 that Deutsche Bank had $360 million in outstanding loans to Trump’s companies. Deutsche Bank also lent $285 million to Jared Kushner’s family real estate company in October 2016.
Investigators have noted other points of interest: Deutsche Bank, unusually, managed its lending to Trump through its private-banking division, rather than normal commercial lending. Finally, the bank has been implicated in Russian money laundering, paying $630 million in fines in 2017 to settle U.S. and British charges that it had improperly transferred $10 billion from Russia.
Trump last week tweeted his indignation at Schiff for “looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal,” calling the House probe “Unlimited Presidential Harassment.”
Trump’s bizarre claim that the subject of an investigation has the right to circumscribe the inquiry into his conduct dates back to a July 19, 2017, interview Trump gave to The New York Times. Asked whether a Mueller probe of his finances would be a “red line,” Trump answered, “I would say yeah.” He then offered a rambling defense, saying at one point, “I don’t do business with Russia.”
Matt Whitaker, until Thursday the acting attorney general, became a Trump favorite before joining the administration when he echoed the president’s line, telling CNN in August 2017 that if Mueller investigated the Trump Organization, “I think that would be crossing a red line.”
Some of Trump’s assertions about not having business dealings with Russia have since been shredded. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, admitted in a guilty plea last November that discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow continued until at least June 14, 2016, six months later than Cohen had told Congress they stopped.
(One clause in Trump’s signed 2015 “letter of intent” for the Moscow project proposed that the fitness facility there would be called a “Spa by Ivanka Trump.”)
Trump told reporters in November that in continuing the Trump Tower discussions through the 2016 campaign, he was just hedging his bets. “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
As Schiff explains: “Trump Tower Moscow is all you need to know about why you can’t let the subject of an investigation draw his own line in an investigation. He says he wasn’t doing business with Russia and he was — and seeking Kremlin help.”
Sorry, Mr. President, but that red line is turning blue. As investigators move into the once-forbidden zone, the likelihood grows that the public will finally learn the truth.
David Ignatius’ email address is email@example.com.