Media Outlets Ask 2nd Circuit to Unseal Deutsche Bank Letter on Trump-Related Tax Returns
A coalition of major media outlets, including The Associated Press and CNN, filed a motion Wednesday with a federal appellate court to force Deutsche Bank to publicly disclose which tax returns it has on file from the family, or entities, of President Donald Trump.
The motion comes two weeks after Deutsche Bank told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit it was in possession of the tax returns of at least one Trump-related business entity or family member, but redacted specific information.
The media outlets, represented by attorneys from law firm Ballard Spahr in Manhattan, argued in their motion to intervene that both the First Amendment and the common law should allow an unredacted version of the filing from Deutsche Bank to be made public.
Rejecting their request to make that information openly available would set a dangerous precedent, the media organizations argued.
“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,” they argued.
The motion was brought by the Associated Press, CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and the Washington Post, according to the filing.
It’s unclear, at this point, which tax returns Deutsche Bank has on hand from Trump, his family or an entity that they control. The bank, in its filing, did not reveal whether it had the tax filings of multiple individuals or entities, or if those documents belong to one person or company.
Those filings could be subject to a request from Democrats in Congress, who subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Capital One earlier this year for documents related to the finances of Trump and his three eldest children: Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump.
The two banks were targeted for the subpoenas because they were known to have done business with the Trump family in recent years, particularly Deutsche Bank. Capital One has said it doesn’t have any of the tax returns in question.
The inquiry did not specifically seek the tax filings of those individuals, but it’s been argued that the breadth of the subpoena would include those documents. An attorney for the U.S. House of Representatives has said the subpoenas were part of a broader effort to investigate money laundering and foreign influence on the U.S. government.
Attorneys for Trump wrote in a recent filing that, even if the bank has those filings, the subpoenas wouldn’t require them to be disclosed to Congress.
The subpoenas are currently under review by the Second Circuit after U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York declined to grant a preliminary injunction against them earlier this year.
Deutsche Bank, represented by Raphael Prober from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C., told the Second Circuit last month that it couldn’t publicly say which tax filings it had because they were the personal, sensitive information of a customer and it was bound by contractual obligations not to disclose those documents without redacting them.
The media outlets, in their motion Wednesday, argued that an unredacted version of the filing should be made available because Deutsche Bank had not met its burden of showing why the information should be kept private, and because the filing is of significant interest to the public.
“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,” they wrote.
The First Amendment, they argued, provides a right of access to judicial documents, particularly in cases as significant to the public as this, where the president is suing to block the disclosure of his financial information to Congress.
A court can allow documents to be sealed, the media outlets said, but only after making specific, on-the-record findings that a party has met its burden to justify that outcome.
In this case, they wrote, the public’s right to the information that was redacted from Deutsche Bank’s filing outweighs the privacy concerns previously cited.
“As Deutsche Bank has not identified a substantial risk to a compelling government interest, it cannot meet its burden to overcome the public’s right of access, and the redacted names should be unsealed forthwith,” they wrote.
The other prong of their argument for having the names unsealed rests in common law, they said. Since the filing from Deutsche Bank will be used by the Second Circuit in its decision on whether to affirm the district court’s ruling, they argued that the public has a right to access the information.
“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,” they wrote.
The coalition is asking the Second Circuit for permission to intervene in the lawsuit, and to have the unredacted version of Deutsche Bank’s filing unsealed for public view.
Patrick Strawbridge, a partner at Consovoy McCarthy, is representing Trump before the Second Circuit. Neither he nor Prober, the attorney for Deutsche Bank, immediately responded to a request for comment Wednesday.
One of the causes for the Panic of 1893 can be traced back to Argentina. One of the causes for the Panic of 2019 can be traced back to Argentina, another to Trumps’ Cabinet of Bankers. In 1893 @JPMorgan had to Bail Out the President, this time round it was @DeutscheBank #Panic
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) August 14, 2019
#DidYouKnow MORTGAGE FRAUD – BANK FINES NO JAIL; Including both cash and non-cash consideration such as consumer relief, Bank of America paid $16.65 billion ; J.P. Morgan, $13 billion; Deutsche Bank, $7.2 billion; CORRECTION $0, THE GERMANS SAID HELL NO; THE DON OWES US! #Trump
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) August 12, 2019
NEW YORK — Attorneys for Deutsche Bank and Capital One repeatedly refused to tell a federal appeals court Friday whether the banks have President Trump’s tax returns, citing “contractual obligations” for rebuffing the court’s questions.
Trump is appealing a district court ruling that cleared the way for the banks to hand over years of financial records from the president, his three eldest children and the president’s companies to two House committees.
Toward the end of Friday’s hearing, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit considering the appeal asked the banks’ attorneys whether the documents subject to the subpoenas could potentially include the president’s tax returns.
“I am not asking you for the content” of the returns, Judge Jon O. Newman said.
“We’re not in a position to answer that question,” said Raphael Prober, the attorney for Deutsche Bank, the president’s largest creditor.
“It is a fairly important question in this case,” Newman said.
Prober and Capital One’s attorney, James Murphy, both said “contractual obligations” prevented the banks from answering the judges’ questions.
As the judges appeared to grow frustrated by the attorneys’ resistance, Judge Peter Hall added: “Should we go to court and seek an order? I’m serious. We need to know.”
The banks, which have not publicly taken a position on Trump’s efforts to block the subpoenas, agreed to provide the appeals court a letter within 48 hours addressing the matter, but it was unclear what the letters would specify or whether they would be made public.
The case is part of an escalating fight between Trump and congressional Democrats over the president’s financial records. Trump has broken with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns and has launched a multi-court effort to keep the details of his finances secret.
The House Financial Services and Intelligence committees are pushing the boundaries of their powers to target and embarrass the president, Trump’s attorney Patrick Strawbridge told the court. The subpoenas would sweep up every debit card transaction and check written by Trump, his children and even his grandchildren, he said.
The case involves the “broadest possible subpoena ever served that targets a sitting president,” Strawbridge said. “The real objective appears to be law enforcement” not legislative.
The court should order the committees to negotiate with Trump to narrow the scope of their subpoenas to relevant matters, he said. Otherwise, “every Diet Coke that a teenager bought using a credit card from Capital One” could be part of the documents produced, Strawbridge said. “They did not have to form their subpoena so broadly.”
Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House, said Trump hasn’t shown a serious willingness to negotiate the terms of the subpoenas. “I do not believe this is sincere,” Letter said.
Letter also defended the committees’ subpoenas as part of sweeping investigations into Russian money laundering that could lead to legislation. Subpoenas have also been sent to 10 other banks unrelated to Trump and his family, he said. Despite the subpoenas’ broad scope, Letter said complying would “have almost no effect on Mr. Trump’s time.”
Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the Financial Services Committee, and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, have said they want to examine the relationship between Trump and Deutsche Bank as part of a larger examination of Russian money laundering and potential foreign influence on Trump.
Deutsche Bank has been a major lender to both the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies, which previously was run by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a presidential adviser.
Trump’s company has taken out about $364 million in loans from Deutsche Bank since 2012, according to public filings. The loans included two worth $125 million to buy and renovate the Doral golf resort in Florida, a $170 million loan to renovate Washington’s Old Post Office into a Trump hotel, and a $69 million loan to refinance an existing Trump hotel in Chicago.
Trump’s financial disclosures and loan records indicate that all four of the loans remain outstanding, though they do not show the balances outstanding.
“Why is it that Deutsche Bank would lend him money when no other bank would touch him?” Letter said.
The fight over Trump’s financial documents comes at a time when Deutsche Bank is struggling financially and has announced a massive restructuring, including potentially cutting 18,000 jobs, gutting its stock and bond trading business and reducing other investment bank operations.
On Thursday, the German giant also agreed to a $16 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over corruption allegations, including that it hired relatives of foreign governments officials in Russia and elsewhere in order to win business.
Deutsche Bank said in a statement about the SEC settlement: “Deutsche Bank provided substantial cooperation to the SEC in its inquiry and has implemented numerous remedial measures to improve the bank’s hiring practices.”