News Outlets Challenge Deutsche Bank Secrecy on Tax Returns

MANHATTAN (CN) – Warning of a dangerous precedent, a coalition of news organizations asked the Second Circuit on Wednesday to unseal the names of Trump-related entities and people whose tax returns are in Deutsche Bank’s possession.

A flag for Deutsche Bank flies outside the German bank’s New York offices on Oct. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

“There is no genuine privacy concern implicated by Deutsche Bank confirming what is already widely understood—that it has copies of certain of the president’s or his affiliates’ financial records—but it would set a disturbing precedent to allow redactions of such rudimentary facts to go unchallenged, particularly in a case involving a sitting president,” Ballard Spahr attorneys Jay Brown and Jacquelyn Schell wrote in a 19-page motion. “The redacted information should be unsealed without further delay.”

The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, Politico and CNN joined in the public-access fight, which appears to seek transparency over a single paragraph of a 4-page letter that Deutsche filed on Aug. 27.

“Based on Deutsche Bank’s current knowledge and the results of the extensive searches that have already been conducted, the bank has in its possession tax returns (in either draft or as-filed form) responsive to the subpoenas for [redacted],” Akin Gump attorney Raphael Prober wrote in that partially sealed letter. “In addition, the bank has such documents related to parties not named in the subpoenas but who may constitute ‘immediate family’ within the definition provided in the subpoenas. The bank does not believe it possesses tax returns responsive to the subpoenas for individuals named in the subpoenas other than those identified above.” (Parentheses in original.)

The news outlets are not seeking the tax returns themselves.

Noting that it is unclear how many names are shielded, the news outlets emphasize that the letter indicates they come from an “already publicly known” group of people and entities named in congressional subpoenas. Trump, along with his children and a swirl of his corporations and LLCs, filed a lawsuit against Deutsche to quash those subpoenas in April, an effort that a federal judge swiftly dismissed a month later.

“These subpoenas are all in service of facially legitimate investigative purposes,” U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled at the time.

Trump’s appeal of that ruling went to the Second Circuit on Aug. 23, where bank representatives balked at questions about whether they have the tax returns sought by Congress.

“That is unfortunately a question we are unable to address,” Deutsche’s attorney Raphael Prober punted at the time.

Deutsche justifies its secrecy in part on the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton to partially repeal the watershed Glass-Steagal Act of 1933. The news outlets note that the German lender has alluded to a possible non-disclosure agreement, without outwardly saying one existed.

“Deutsche Bank’s allusion to contractual obligations ‘often’ included in its customer contracts does nothing to establish that any specific contract actually prohibits it from disseminating the names in question in the first instance, and such speculation by Deutsche Bank that a contractual term might exist is utterly insufficient to meet its burden,” the news outlets’ motion states.

On the other hand, the news outlets say, the First Amendment interests in transparency are strong.

“The question of which specific entities or individuals—from among a group whose identities are already publicly known—will be the subject of this court’s adjudication is of substantial value to those monitoring the court and the execution of its duties in this case, litigation commenced by the president to prevent Congress from obtaining financial documents from certain persons and entities closely associated with him, thereby raising important questions about separation of powers,” the motion states. “The broader congressional investigation is looking into, among other things, attempts by foreign nations to influence U.S. citizens, including the president, during his campaign for office or since.”

It continues, “The ultimate decision in this case and the information requested by the court to reach its decision are of extraordinary public importance, and as demonstrated above, Deutsche Bank has not identified any valid, applicable privacy interest, much less demonstrated why any such personal privacy interest would outweigh the exceptional public interests at stake.”

Deutsche Bank’s attorney did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email requesting comment.

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