Subpoenas Targeting Trump Bank Records Get Lift-Off

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

MANHATTAN (CN) – The second federal judge in a week has rebuffed a bid by President Donald Trump to quash congressional subpoenas of his financial records, this time involving his personal and business transactions at Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

“These subpoenas are all in service of facially legitimate investigative purposes,” U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled from the bench, reciting what he said was a 25-page opinion.

While recognizing that a congressional investigation into a sitting president’s finances is serious, Ramos added that the legal questions Trump’s attorneys raised were not.

“Even if the questions were sufficiently serious, injunctive relief would be unwarranted,” Ramos said.

The blistering ruling marked the second wholesale repudiation in a single week of Trump’s claims that House Democrats overstepped their constitutional mandates in holding him to scrutiny.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington gave Trump’s accountants at Mazars USA LLP seven days to cough up his financial records. Today’s hearing meanwhile began mere hours after the New York Assembly authorized the release of Trump’s state tax returns to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Citing Mehta’s opinion, Ramos noted that the Supreme Court’s standard for a congressional subpoena is “a forgiving one.”

“Without the power to investigate—including of course the authority to compel testimony, either through its own processes or through judicial trial—Congress could be seriously handicapped in its efforts to exercise its constitutional function wisely and effectively,” the judge added, reading Supreme Court precedent.

The subpoenas into Trump’s bank accounts amp up scrutiny upon Deutsche Bank, a German lender in the swirl of a money laundering scandal.

Deutsche has been identified as one of the few financial institutions willing to do business with Trump after his casino bankruptcies in the 1990s. The New York Times reported on Monday that the bank’s anti-money laundering specialist expressed her concerns over accounts associated with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, but the bank’s executives rejected her recommendation to send their transactions to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes and Enforcement Unit.

Hours ahead of today’s hearing before Ramos in New York, Deutsche Bank claimed to have had a bug in the software they used to detect money laundering.

 Trump’s attorney Patrick Strawbridge argued in court that the subpoenas serve no legitimate or lawful purpose.

“I think this is important to emphasize that this isn’t a subpoena for government activity,” Strawbridge said.

“They’re literally looking for information about minors,” added Strawbridge, from the firm Consovoy McCarthy Park. “They’re looking for information about in-laws.”

Douglas Letter, general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, argued meanwhile that inquiries into possible financial crimes must consider such matters.

“They put their relatives in charge,” Letter said, referring to perpetrators of such offenses. “This is what people committing financial fraud do.”

Describing Trump’s lawsuit as an affront to the separation of powers, Letter affirmed: “We are a check on the president.”

“He clearly views us as some sort of nuisance,” Letter added, referring to Trump. “[The suit] shows a very serious misunderstanding on how the law has developed since the beginning of our country.”

Adopting Trump’s “witch-hunt” rhetoric, Strawbridge likened the congressional probe into Trump’s finances to the House Un-American Activities Committee, one facet of the anti-communist investigations under the Red Scare.

Left unmentioned was that one of the most notable figures of the Red Scare, Joseph McCarthy’s henchman Roy Cohn, was Trump’s personal attorney and oft-described mentor.

Brushing aside that rhetoric, Letter ridiculed the notion that the House of Representatives is in “collusion with the Trump-led Department of Justice.”

In his written briefings, Letter emphasized that the committees were conducting various investigations on issues of national significance. Among their “wide-ranging investigations,” the Committee on Financial Services listed probes into loan fraud, Bank Secrecy Act compliance and money laundering. The House Intelligence Committee cited its investigations into attempts by “Russia and other foreign entities to influence the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 election.”

The order by Ramos this afternoon refusing Trump an injunction is the latest in a succession of blows to the president’s longtime effort to keep his finances secret.

Immersed in a “wide-ranging investigation,” the Committee on Financial Services and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are seeking records from Deutsche Bank and Capitol One on Trump, his family and seven entities associated with them.

Ramos accurately predicted that Trump’s attorneys would promptly appeal the decision. Indeed, no sooner had Ramos finished reciting the ruling from the bench than Strawbridge requested a stay of the decision before heading to the Second Circuit.

“That request is denied,” Ramos unceremoniously replied.

Deutsche meanwhile signaled its intention to comply with the congressional subpoenas.

“We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations,” the bank said in a statement.

Capital One did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though the Trump-related aspects captured most headlines, the House committees emphasized that their probe extends much broader.

“Trump is saying here, ‘This is focusing on me,’” Letter told the judge today. “It’s not.”

He added that the full investigation looks into money laundering and Russian oligarchs funneling money through foreign entities into the United States.

Trump’s attorneys insist that this makes the congressional probe an impermissible law enforcement investigation under another name, but Letter hearkened to a salient historical precedent to dispute that.

Watergate investigated criminal activity and yet it was not a law enforcement investigation, he noted.

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