Trump busi­ness in Dems’ sights

House lead­ers ready to un­leash flurry of sub­poe­nas

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s fa­mously opaque busi­ness will face a brac­ing new re­al­ity next year when House Democrats hit it with a flurry of sub­poe­nas for the first time.

Repub­li­cans and the Trump Organization have been able to ig­nore Democrats’ ques­tions about the com­pany’s fi­nances and busi­ness prac­tices.

Come Jan­uary, Democrats tak­ing con­trol of the House will be able to in­ves­ti­gate many an­gles, start­ing with how much con­tact the pres­i­dent main­tains with Trump Organization ex­ec­u­tives after agree­ing to sus­pend his role in run­ning the com­pany. They will ask whether Trump dis­cusses busi­ness with his sons, Eric and Don­ald Jr., whom he left in charge.

Democrats also have unan­swered ques­tions about the Trump Organization’s con­tacts with for­eign gov­ern­ments, its po­ten­tial ties to Rus­sian and Saudi in­ter­ests and its deal­ings with Deutsche Bank.

Rep. Jackie Speier, DCalif., has re­leased a memo from ad­vis­ers the­o­riz­ing that Trump’s busi­ness may be a rack­e­teer­ing en­ter­prise that fa­cil­i­tates money laun­der­ing.

Amanda Miller, a Trump Organization spokes­woman, and Alan Garten, the com­pany’s chief le­gal of­fi­cer, didn’t re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment.

“They can play that game, but we can play it bet­ter,” Trump said of the ex­pected Demo­cratic in­ves­ti­ga­tions on an ar­ray of top­ics. At a White House news con­fer­ence the day after the Nov. 6 midterms, he vowed a “war-like pos­ture” if Democrats come after him.

For the first time since Trump took of­fice, a dozen Democrats will head House com­mit­tees that give their chair­man the uni­lat­eral power to com­pel the pro­duc­tion of doc­u­ments and to is­sue sub­poe­nas for tes­ti­mony.

“We should use the sub­poena power,” said Rep. John Gara­mendi, D-Calif. “What will we learn? Well, that’s why you use a sub­poena.”

As a mem­ber of the House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee, Gara­mendi wants to in­spect the Trump Organization’s lease agree­ment with the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Trump’s ho­tel in the Old Post Of­fice build­ing in Wash­ing­ton, he told Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion this month.

Democrats also want to know de­tails about the Trump Organization’s rev­enue from for­eign gov­ern­ments be­cause they have ac­cused Trump of vi­o­lat­ing the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion’s emol­u­ments clauses by tak­ing such pay­ments at the ho­tel.

More broadly, Trump’s de­ci­sion to main­tain his busi­ness by plac­ing it in a re­vo­ca­ble trust run by his two adult sons and a long­time lieu­tenant — and his pen­chant to eat, golf and stay at his com­mer­cial prop­er­ties — have prompted ques­tions from Democrats and out­side groups about whether Trump is us­ing his of­fice to boost his com­pany’s im­age and rev­enue.

“We got to fig­ure out when is he act­ing on be­half of the Amer­i­can peo­ple in a lot of his de­ci­sions, or is he act­ing on his own be­half,” Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, DMd., who is in line to lead the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, told ABC News.

The bar­rage of po­ten­tial probes from the House would be a per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge for a pres­i­dent who won of­fice tout­ing his cre­den­tials as a suc­cess story in real es­tate and brand­ing while re­fus­ing to re­lease his tax returns and chaf­ing against in­quiries into his busi­ness prac­tices.

Last year, he said spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller would cross a red line if he ex­am­ined the Trump Organization as part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling.

None­the­less, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into as­pects of Trump’s busi­ness al­ready are un­der­way by lo­cal and state au­thor­i­ties in New York and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan.

While these in­quiries pro­ceed largely in se­cret, Democrats in Wash­ing­ton would un­leash a drum­beat of ques­tions and al­le­ga­tions about what they por­tray as the Trump Organization’s ties to murky money.

“We know that Deutsche Bank is iden­ti­fied as one of the big­gest money-laun­der­ing banks in the world, per­haps, and that they’re the only ones who were amenable to providing loans to this pres­i­dent,” Rep. Max­ine Waters, D-Calif., the ex­pected new head of the House Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said in an in­ter­view with Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion.

The Ger­man banking gi­ant has given Trump loans to­tal­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars dur­ing the last decade.

U.S. and U.K. reg­u­la­tors last year levied al­most $630 mil­lion in fines against Deutsche Bank AG for en­abling wealthy Rus­sians to spirit money out of the coun­try us­ing so-called mir­ror trades.

“Deutsche Bank takes its le­gal obli­ga­tions se­ri­ously and re­mains com­mit­ted to co­op­er­at­ing with au­tho­rized in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Troy Gravitt, a spokesman for the Ger­man bank, said in an emailed com­ment. “Our re­cent record of co­op­er­at­ing with such in­ves­ti­ga­tions has been widely rec­og­nized by reg­u­la­tors. We in­tend to keep work­ing in this spirit if we get an au­tho­rized re­quest for in­for­ma­tion.”

After the bank set­tled with U.S. au­thor­i­ties in Jan­uary 2017, the com­pany said in a state­ment, “Deutsche Bank is co­op­er­at­ing with other reg­u­la­tors and law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties, which have their own on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into these se­cu­ri­ties trades.”

Democrats on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee pre­vi­ously have asked whether Krem­lin-con­nected Rus­sians have laun­dered dirty money by go­ing into busi­ness with the Trump Organization or buy­ing its prop­er­ties, ac­cord­ing to a re­port they pub­lished in March.

“Don­ald Trump’s fi­nances his­tor­i­cally have been opaque, but there have long been cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions as to the use of Trump prop­er­ties to laun­der money by Rus­sian oli­garchs, crim­i­nals and regime cronies,” Democrats said in the re­port. “There also re­main crit­i­cal unan­swered ques­tions about the source of Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­sonal and cor­po­rate fi­nanc­ing.”

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