Come the new year, we'll likely learn a lot more about President Trump's business empire, including his tourism assets.
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’ll be asking whether Trump discusses business with his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., who 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 AG. Representative Jackie Speier of California has even 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, 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 Representative John Garamendi of California. “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’ve 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 over 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,” Representative Elijah Cummings, 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 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would cross a red line if he examined the Trump Organization as part of his investigation into Russian election meddling.
New York Probes
Nonetheless, investigations into aspects of Trump’s business are already 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 be unleashing 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,” Maxine Waters, 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 over the past 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.
The German bank didn’t respond to requests for comment. 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 have previously 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.”
Risk of Overkill
Democrats on the House Intelligence panel also have requested records of calls between Trump and his eldest son, Donald Jr., who helps oversee his trust.
The Democrats’ pent-up demands for investigations face one major constraint, though: the risk Republicans will portray them as indulging in an anti-Trump vendetta instead of attending to legislative business.
“I’m not going to be handing out subpoenas like somebody’s handing out candy on Halloween,” said Cummings, the Oversight Committee leader. “If I have to use them, they will be used in a methodical way.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
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Photo credit: Trump Tower. President Trump's business interests are likely to face more scrutiny in the coming year. Bloomberg