Trump Sues 2 Banks To Block Democrats From Investigating His Finances

Apr 30, 2019
Originally published on April 30, 2019 10:31 pm

Updated at 3:49 p.m. ET

President Trump has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to keep two banks from responding to congressional subpoenas, setting up a legal showdown with Democrats eager to investigate his finances.

The president, his three oldest children and his business, The Trump Organization, say the investigations by the House intelligence and Financial Services committees are overbroad and serve no purpose beyond harassment.

The suit, filed Monday, says the subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One have no purpose but "to rummage through every aspect of [President Trump's] personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the President and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage. No grounds exist to establish any purpose other than a political one."

Since taking control of the House, Democrats have promised to look deeply into the Trump family's finances, and Deutsche Bank has promised to cooperate with the investigation.

Deutsche Bank was one of the few, if only, major banks to lend to Trump after his casino bankruptcies in the early 1990s.

Trump's suit says the subpoenas amount to overreach because much of the information sought predates his election "and encompasses reams of account records for entities, individuals, children, and spouses who have never even been implicated in any probe."

In a joint statement, Chairwoman Maxine Waters of the Financial Services Committee and Chairman Adam Schiff of the intelligence committee said the suit was "only designed to put off meaningful accountability as long as possible."

"As a private businessman, Trump routinely used his well-known litigiousness and the threat of lawsuits to intimidate others, but he will find that Congress will not be deterred from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities," the statement said.

Trump's lawsuit may slow down the congressional investigations but is unlikely to stop them in the long run, says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.

"I think the president is fully aware that down the road, the court will allow some of these subpoenas, especially the ones that focus on him and his transactions," she says.

"Particularly with a president like this, who's involved in so many foreign business dealings and tax issues and emoluments issues, this is actually a prime case for Congress to say, 'We need your financial records,' " she adds.

The Supreme Court has traditionally given Congress broad power to investigate and has been reluctant to intervene when lawmakers issue a subpoena, says Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman.

"The courts basically said, 'This is up to the Congress. They do what they want to do. We don't get involved,' " Feldman says.

Trump and his attorneys may be hoping they can persuade the Supreme Court to step in and strike down — or at least restrict — the subpoenas, but that may take a while, Feldman says.

Without a court order, the banks will have no choice but to comply with Congress' demands and turn over to investigators the records they want, Feldman says.

"Every bank is subject to intense federal regulation and ignoring an explicit demand from Congress is not a good idea if you're a regulated entity," he says.

In a statement Tuesday, Deutsche Bank said it was committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and would abide by a court order regarding such investigations.

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President Trump has opened a new front in his power struggle with Democrats in Congress. But instead of taking legal action against his political adversaries, he's suing the very banks that he's done business with. He filed suit in federal court yesterday to stop the banks from turning over records to two House committees that are looking into his family's financial affairs. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Earlier this month, House investigators looking into Trump's ties to foreign governments issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions. Trump's lawyers say the subpoenas amount to a huge fishing expedition reaching far into the past. Trump's son Eric told Fox News this morning that Democrats were going after his entire family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC TRUMP: It's not just my father. It's, Eric, I want to see all your bank records. I want to know how much, you know, Lara spent on baby formula for Luke. I want to know what - you know, how many beers Tiffany had on a Friday afternoon in Georgetown.

ZARROLI: Eric Trump is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, as is his sister Ivanka and brother Don Jr., not to mention the Trump organization itself. The suit asks the court to bar Deutsche Bank and Capital One from turning over any financial records about the Trump family or its company. Deutsche Bank in particular was one of the few major banks to lend money to Trump after his casinos went bankrupt in the early 1990s. And congressional investigators are eager to look into its ties to the president. A court order blocking the subpoenas would stop the investigation in its tracks or at least sideline it for a while.

LAURIE LEVENSON: Well, I think what it's likely to do at this stage is slow things down.

ZARROLI: But Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School says it won't stop the investigation for good. She says the courts are unlikely to side with Trump in the long run.

LEVENSON: I think the president is fully aware that down the road, the court will allow some of these subpoenas, especially the ones that focus on him and his transactions.

ZARROLI: Federal courts have traditionally given Congress broad authority to investigate and have been reluctant to intervene when Congress issues a subpoena, says Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman.

NOAH FELDMAN: And as early as 1821, the Supreme Court said, yes, Congress has the essential power to do investigations and to subpoena people and even to hold them in contempt because that's essential to being a legislator.

ZARROLI: Feldman says the Supreme Court upheld that power in 1975.

FELDMAN: The courts basically said, this is up to the Congress. They do what they want to do. We don't get involved.

ZARROLI: Democrats called Trump's lawsuit yesterday meritless. California Congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told The Washington Post today that Trump's lawsuit is part of an overall effort to curb the power of the legislative branch. First, Trump declared an emergency so he could spend money on a border wall with Mexico. Schiff said that was an attack on Congress's power of the purse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: Now he is going at Congress again to try to undermine one of our other most important powers and responsibilities. And that is the responsibility of oversight.

ZARROLI: To Noah Feldman, Trump and his attorneys may be playing a long game. They may be hoping they can persuade the Supreme Court to step in and strike down or, at least, restrict the subpoenas. But that may take a while. And in the meantime, lower courts are likely to side with Congress. And Feldman says without a court order to the contrary, big banks may have no choice but to comply with Congress's demands. That means giving investigators the records they want.

FELDMAN: Every bank is subject to intense federal regulation. And ignoring an explicit demand from Congress is not a good idea if you're a regulated entity.

ZARROLI: Deutsche Bank in particular has repeatedly run afoul of bank regulators over financial crimes such as money laundering. And the bank has made clear it's willing to cooperate with investigators and comply with any court order it receives.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.