Trump And The World

For Latest Trump Revelations, Follow The (Family) Money

Trump's former strategist Steven Bannon was quoted as saying the families of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner may get caught in a significant federal money-laundering investigation.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr
Timothy L. O'Brien

-Analysis-

WASHINGTON — Trump watchers have been treated to a world-class cage match over the last couple of days between President Donald Trump and one of his political svengalis, Steve Bannon.

Lots of attention has been lavished on Bannon's charge, leveled in the new book Fire and Fury by the journalist Michael Wolff, that Trump's son, Donald Jr., engaged in "treasonous' behavior by meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. There are also requisite antics involving others in the Trump clan and the White House.

All of that is entertaining, as is Trump's furious counterattack. He posits that Bannon has "lost his mind" and on Wednesday night unleashed one of his lawyers to warn his former chief strategist that if he kept yapping about life with the Trumps he'd get taken to court and suffer other miseries. (Wolff apparently has recordings of his Bannon interviews and Trump granted Wolff access to the White House, so legal remedies for the president may be elusive.)

But one of the more substantive issues Bannon has surfaced shouldn't get lost in the cacophony. Bannon, in his interviews with Wolff, has invited us to consider the families of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner as possible targets of a significant federal money-laundering investigation.

It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner stuff.

Bannon is dismissive of the Trumps and how haphazard and reckless they were during the campaign — in part, no doubt, because they didn't think they'd win. That lens allows Bannon to understand exactly why the Trump campaign has drawn the attention of the Justice Department's special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible links to the Kremlin (and who has already indicted Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, and Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, on an array of criminal charges).

Bannon also knows, as any street-fighter would, that Mueller's probe is perilous for the president because it is much more than an investigation into Russia's election meddling on Trump's behalf — and Bannon zeroes in candidly and coolly on that fact.

"This is all about money laundering," Wolff quotes Bannon saying. "Their path to expletive Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner." For good measure he added, "It's as plain as a hair on your face."

"It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner stuff," Bannon adds. "The Kushner stuff is greasy. They're going to go right through that." (He used a nastier word than "stuff," but let's keep things family-friendly around here.)

Bannon then roasts the Trump White House for how ill-prepared it is to take on Mueller's team: "They're sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five."

The Trump family has had longstanding real estate and licensing dealings with questionable business associates, some of them Russian and some of them not, as I and reporters like the late Wayne Barrett have written about for years. The family's recent departure from its ill-fated Trump ​SoHo hotel project, and its partnership with career criminals like Felix Sater, are reminders of how problematic some of those deals will be in the context of Mueller's investigation.

Source

While Trump allies have recently targeted Mueller's probe as ill-founded, tainted with prosecutorial bias, and the work of a conspiracy orchestrated with Democratic partisans and the "deep state," the reality is that Mueller — a well-regarded, veteran prosecutor — has been running a by-the-books investigation.

It's an investigation that is likely to continue examining matters beyond political collusion — which Mueller's original mandate allows for — and will continue to involve explorations of financial dealings by the Trump family and members of the Trump campaign (particularly those involving Russia).

Bannon knows this, and his comments to Wolff show that he knows how devastating all of it could be to Trump and his children.

The speed and intemperance of Trump's counterpunches suggest that the president probably feels himself at risk, too. There were many reasons Trump may have had for lashing out, of course. Bannon painted him as someone surrounded by ignorant, scheming relatives, lacking any interest in governing, pursuing the presidency as a marketing lark, and an empty vessel that others could fill with their own ideas — in other words, exactly the guy who's been occupying the Oval Office for the last year.

Bannon knows that Donald Jr. and Kushner are potential liabilities for the president.

Bannon's (and Wolff's) stuff was so compelling that it became a thing on social media on Wednesday, drowning out much of the chatter Trump sparked the night before when he tweeted that his nuclear arsenal was "bigger & more powerful" than North Korea's.

It never takes long for the president to lash back when someone makes the mistake of criticizing him, belittling the First Family or usurping the spotlight. Bannon hit the trifecta and did all three.

"Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look," Trump advised in a statement the White House released on Wednesday. "Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books."

Little of those latter observations ring true. Bannon may be a crackpot, but he certainly had the president's ear during the campaign's home stretch and in the early, shambolic months of the Trump administration last year. And as my Bloomberg News colleague Joshua Green detailed long before others caught on, Bannon is a media savvy operative who understands in his own peculiar way what makes some people tick. So Trump won't find it easy to dismiss what Bannon has said with a few broadsides.

Bannon knows that Donald Jr. and Kushner are potential liabilities for the president, especially in the context of a sophisticated money-laundering probe. And he also knows how ill-equipped the White House is to contend with the legal hurdles and financial inquiries that lie ahead of it. He knows all of this, even if he has lost his mind. That's why the president wants to shut him up and shut him down.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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