Over a year ago, when the media were already obsessed about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, I wrote that the Trump empire's entanglement with troubled financial giant Deutsche Bank presented the only real existential threat to Donald Trump's presidency. The media have largely ignored this story in favor of the more sensational (and much more spurious) story about Trump's alleged collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
They are still doing it today, even in the face of mounting evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller's probe isn't really about collusion with Russian election tampering at all. But it's obvious that one person understands what is really happening, and that's former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
According to the Guardian, in an explosive interview with book author Michael Wolff, Bannon made a number of comments about the campaign's alleged involvement with the Russians that the media is salivating over, including remarks to the effect that Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was potentially "treasonous."
At the end of the day, the facts remain pretty simple: The material the Russians obtained was printed by WikiLeaks and would have been printed by WikiLeaks with or without the help of the Trump campaign, and even if it can be proven that the Trump campaign was given inside access to the information before it was published, there is just no evidence that they used it to any effect or that their access to it had any effect on the result of the election at all.
I know that there are a lot of people who simply cannot accept the fact that Trump beat Hillary Clinton because it seems to them that he should not have beaten her, but it's time for those people to come to grips with the fact that it happened, that it wasn't the fault of the Russians, and that it is never going to be undone through impeachment.
However, buried in the interview is an indication that Bannon understands where the real danger to Trump's presidency lies, and that's from his companies' financial entanglements with institutions like Deutsche Bank.
How badly are the media missing this story? Bannon's own assessment of the real danger to Trump isn't mentioned until the 13th paragraph of the Guardian's recounting of his interview with Wolff. Then, as an afterthought, the Guardian notes that Bannon said:
“You realise where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.” ...
Bannon continues: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner s**t. The Kushner s**t is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
Whatever you think about Bannon — even if you're one of the many people who justifiably think very little of him — here is clear evidence that he "gets it," and it's astounding that more people in the media don't.
The sharks have been publicly circling Deutsche Bank for years, for good reason. They are credibly accused of a lengthy list of criminal and regulatory violations, including money laundering for organized crime in Russia — the very thing Paul Manafort was suspected of doing even at the time Trump hired him to run his campaign. As I said last year:
However, Deutsche Bank is in serious trouble, a large portion of which is directly due to criminal and regulatory investigations currently underway at the behest of multiple governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. Deutsche is accused of, among other things, helping organized crime elements in Russia disguise suspicious trades, and is facing billions of dollars in potential fines from the U.S. Justice Department alone from these activities, as well as from unrelated regulatory issues related to mortgage securities.
The sum total of the fines faced by the bank threatens its financial solvency. And its position is so precarious that the question of whether the German government will offer a bailout is a major political issue in Germany. If Deutsche fails, the financial effects will ripple across the globe, potentially creating a liquidity crisis similar to the one that created the 2008 recession.
In the midst of all this, the president, his family, and his businesses are massively in debt to Deutsche Bank. It's difficult to piece together exactly how much Trump, his family, and his business entities owe to Deutsche Bank, but the combined total is almost certainly in the hundreds of millions of dollars. On a personal financial disclosure form from early last year, Trump revealed that he personally owed Deutsche bank "over $50,000,000" — how much over $50 million, we do not know.
Pinning down how much Trump's various business entities owe to Deutsche Bank is an even slipperier proposition, but it has been estimated at around $300 million, all told.
That doesn't count the $285 million that Deutsche Bank loaned to Jared Kushner's companies right before the 2016 elections in a transaction that is now under scrutiny from a completely different set of prosecutors that are not connected to the Mueller probe.
In other words, the family and business enterprises of the president of the United States owe over half a billion dollars to a financial institution that is currently under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for, among other things, allegedly laundering money for the Russian mob. Not to belabor the obvious, but the entirety of the Department of Justice reports directly to the president.
When the DOJ finishes this investigation, the result of that investigation — especially if it lets Deutsche Bank off with a slap on the wrist — will be placed under intense scrutiny.
If Democrats retake the House in 2018, the scrutiny will likely take the form of official committee investigations into Trump's ties with Deutsche Bank that might well make impeachment politically palatable in a way that "Russian collusion" has not. And if it can be proven that Trump or his family or companies were involved, however indirectly, with the money laundering that Deutsche Bank is accused of, it's Katy bar the door.
There's growing evidence that Bannon is exactly right about what Mueller is doing with his probe. The bits about Russian collusion are excellent fodder for the media that is obsessed with the idea that the election was somehow taken away from Hillary Clinton unfairly.
Substantively, though, the real concern for Trump is and always has been his entanglement with the troubled bank, which is why the one actual public threat he has made to fire Mueller centered around any potential investigation into his personal or family finances.
The media cannot help themselves when it comes to talking about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Steve Bannon knows that Robert Mueller is looking where the bodies are actually buried, if they exist.
He's trying to tell them, but they seem incapable of listening.