The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday made a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of the private military contractor Blackwater and an ally of President Trump, accusing him of “knowingly and willfully” making false statements to Congress.
Prince’s statements “impaired the Committee’s understanding of Russia’s attempts to contact and influence the incoming Trump Administration,” Schiff wrote in his referral letter to Attorney General William P. Barr, describing six alleged instances in which Prince misled the panel about his January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian banker tied to the Kremlin — and how much the Trump transition team knew about it.
“The evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this,” Schiff said during a Washington Post Live event earlier Tuesday, announcing his intention to make the referral later in the day.
Democratic lawmakers have long suspected that Prince lied to them during his November 2017 interview before the House Intelligence Commitee, when he described his Seychelles meeting with Russian financier Kirill Dmitriev as a chance encounter, instead of one organized at the behest of the incoming administration. Their suspicions hardened after they read special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s depiction of the Seychelles meeting, which differed in several key respects with Prince’s sworn testimony.
Mueller’s team also learned that Prince had been in touch with Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, before the meeting and from the Seychelles, but it was unable to unearth the content those conversations, as the messages had disappeared from their devices, according to Mueller’s report.
“We know from the Mueller report that was not a chance meeting. . . . We know there were communications after he returned,” Schiff said during The Post event. “In very material ways I think the evidence strongly suggests that he willingly misled our committee, and the Justice Department needs to consider whether there’s a prosecutable case.”
The White House, the Justice Department and the Trump Organization had no immediate response to Schiff’s comments.
In a statement, a lawyer for Prince said there “is no new evidence here.” Matthew L. Schwartz said: “Erik Prince’s House testimony has been public for months, including at all times that Mr. Prince met with the Special Counsel’s Office. Mr. Prince cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, as its report demonstrates. There is nothing new here for the Department of Justice to consider, nor is there any reason to question the Special Counsel’s decision to credit Mr. Prince and rely on him in drafting its report.”
Schiff noted Tuesday that some of the information Prince gave investigators was presented during proffer sessions. He speculated that if Prince told Mueller’s team what he knew “under the condition it not be used against him, then being able to prove” that he lied to lawmakers “might be problematic.”
Details in Mueller’s report have solidified many Democrats’ concerns that Trump Jr. lied to them about the details surrounding the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that he and others from the Trump campaign held with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The report also sparked new concerns that Kushner misled lawmakers about the pre-inauguration contacts his business associate, Rick Gerson, had with Dmitriev, the banker who met with Prince in the Seychelles.
But Democrats are reluctant to levy official accusations against Kushner and Trump Jr. until they are able to view the redacted information in Mueller’s report, as well as the transcripts of the special counsel’s witness interviews.
In a separate interview at The Washington Post Live event, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Republicans are also considering referring some congressional witnesses to the Justice Department for possibly lying to Congress.
Meadows said the GOP is looking at two or three people. He declined to name them but suggested at least one is connected to Fusion GPS, the firm behind a controversial dossier alleging Trump had personal and financial ties to Russia.
At Deutsche Bank, Mr. Offit’s mandate was to lend money to big real estate developers, package the loans into securities and sell the resulting bonds to investors. He said in an interview that one way to stand out in a crowded market was to make loans that his rivals considered too risky.
In 1998, a broker contacted him to see if he would consider lending to a Wall Street pariah: Mr. Trump, who was then a casino magnate whose bankruptcies had cost banks hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mr. Offit took the meeting.
A few days later, Mr. Offit’s secretary called him. “Donald Trump is in the conference room,” she whispered. Mr. Offit said he rushed in, expecting to find an entourage. Mr. Trump was alone.
He was looking for a $125 million loan to pay for gut renovations of 40 Wall Street, his Art Deco tower in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Offit was impressed by the pitch, and the loan sailed through Deutsche Bank’s approval process.
Mr. Trump seemed giddy with gratitude, Mr. Offit recalled. He took Mr. Offit golfing. He flew him by helicopter to Atlantic City for boxing matches. He wrote a grateful note to Sidney Offit for having “a great son!”
Mr. Offit commissioned a detailed model of 40 Wall Street. A golden plaque on its pedestal bore the names and logos of Deutsche Bank and the Trump Organization. Mr. Offit gave one to Mr. Trump and kept another in his office.
Mr. Trump soon came looking for $300 million for the construction of a skyscraper across from the United Nations headquarters. The loan was approved. He wanted hundreds of millions more for his Trump Marina casino in Atlantic City. Mr. Offit pledged to line up cash for that, too.
Not long after, Edson Mitchell, a top bank executive, discovered that the signature of the credit officer who had approved the Trump Marina deal had been forged, Mr. Offit said. (Mr. Offit was never accused of forgery; the loan never went through.)
Mr. Offit was fired months later. He said it was because Mr. Mitchell claimed that he was reckless, a charge Mr. Offit disputed.
It was the first hiccup in the Trump relationship. It would not be the last.
Over the next few years, the commercial real estate group, with Mr. Kennedy now in a senior role, kept lending to Mr. Trump, including to buy the General Motors building in Manhattan. Occasionally, Justice Kennedy stopped by Deutsche Bank’s offices to say hello to the team, executives recalled.
At an annual pro-am golf tournament the bank hosted outside Boston in the early 2000s, Mr. Trump sat down for a recorded interview with the bank’s public relations staff, who asked about his experience with Deutsche Bank.
“It’s great,” Mr. Trump exclaimed, according to a person who witnessed the interview. “They’re really fast!”
In 2003, a Deutsche Bank team led by Richard Byrne — a former casino-industry analyst who had known Mr. Trump since the 1980s — was hired to sell bonds on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. Bank officials escorted Mr. Trump to meet institutional investors in New York and Boston, according to an executive who attended.
The so-called roadshow seemed to go well. At every stop, Mr. Trump was greeted by large audiences of fund managers, executives and lower-level employees eager to see the famous mogul. The problem, as a Deutsche Bank executive would explain to Mr. Trump, was that few of them were willing to entrust money to him.
Mr. Trump requested an audience with the bank’s bond salesmen.
According to a Deutsche Bank executive who heard the remarks, Mr. Trump gave a pep talk. “Fellas, I know this isn’t the easiest thing you’ve had to sell,” the executive recalled Mr. Trump saying. “But if you get this done, you’ll all be my guests at Mar-a-Lago,” his private club in Palm Beach, Fla.
The sales team managed to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds. Mr. Trump was pleased with the results when a Deutsche Bank executive called, according to a person who heard the conversation.
“Don’t forget what you promised our guys,” the executive reminded him.
Mr. Trump said he did not remember and that he doubted the salesmen actually expected to be taken to Mar-a-Lago.
“That’s all they’ve talked about the past week,” the executive replied.
Mr. Trump ultimately flew about 15 salesmen to Florida on his Boeing 727. They spent a weekend golfing with Mr. Trump, two participants said.
A year later, in 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts defaulted on the bonds. Deutsche Bank’s clients suffered steep losses. This arm of the investment-banking division stopped doing business with Mr. Trump.
.. Mr. Trump told Deutsche Bank his net worth was about $3 billion, but when bank employees reviewed his finances, they concluded he was worth about $788 million, according to documents produced during a lawsuit Mr. Trump brought against the former New York Times journalist Timothy O’Brien. And a senior investment-banking executive said in an interview that he and others cautioned that Mr. Trump should be avoided because he had worked with people in the construction industry connected to organized crime.
Nonetheless, Deutsche Bank agreed in 2005 to lend Mr. Trump more than $500 million for the project. He personally guaranteed $40 million of it, meaning the bank could come after his personal assets if he defaulted.
By 2008, the riverside skyscraper, one of the tallest in America, was mostly built. But with the economy sagging, Mr. Trump struggled to sell hundreds of condominium units. The bulk of the loan was due that November.
Then the financial crisis hit, and Mr. Trump’s lawyers sensed an opportunity.
A provision in the loan let Mr. Trump partially off the hook in the event of a “force majeure,” essentially an act of God, like a natural disaster. The former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan had called the financial crisis a tsunami. And what was a tsunami if not a natural disaster?
.. One of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Steven Schlesinger, told him the provision could be used against Deutsche Bank.
“It’s brilliant!” Mr. Schlesinger recalled Mr. Trump responding.
Days before the loan was due, Mr. Trump sued Deutsche Bank, citing the force majeure language and seeking $3 billion in damages. Deutsche Bank countersued and demanded payment of the $40 million that Mr. Trump had personally guaranteed.
With the suits in court, senior investment-banking executives severed ties with Mr. Trump.
.. Ms. Vrablic’s superiors encouraged her to make loans that rival banks dismissed as too large or complex. They saw it as a way to elbow into the hypercompetitive New York market.
.. One of Ms. Vrablic’s clients was Jared Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009. Mr. Kushner regarded Ms. Vrablic as the best banker he had ever worked with, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
Shortly after the Chicago lawsuit was settled, Mr. Kushner was told that Mr. Trump was looking for a loan and introduced him to Ms. Vrablic, according to people familiar with the relationship.
.. Mr. Trump flew Ms. Vrablic to Miami to show her a property he wanted to buy: the Doral Golf Resort and Spa. He needed more than $100 million for the 72-hole property.
Deutsche Bank dispatched a team to Trump Tower to inspect Mr. Trump’s personal and corporate financial records. The bankers determined he was overvaluing some of his real estate assets by as much as 70 percent, according to two former executives.
.. By then, though, Mr. Trump had become a reality-TV star, and he was swimming in cash from “The Apprentice.” Deutsche Bank officials also were impressed that Mr. Trump did not have much debt, according to people who reviewed his finances. Aside from his history of defaults, he was an attractive borrower.
Mr. Trump also expressed interest in another loan from the private-banking division: $48 million for the same Chicago property that had provoked the two-year court fight.
Mr. Trump told the bank he would use that loan to repay what he still owed the investment-banking division, the two former executives said. Even by Wall Street standards, borrowing money from one part of a bank to pay off a loan from another was an extraordinary act of financial chutzpah.
.. Investment-banking executives, including Anshu Jain, who would soon become Deutsche Bank’s co-chief executive, pushed back. Lending to Mr. Trump again would be foolish, they argued, and signal to clients that they could default and even sue the bank.
Executives in the private bank countered that the proposed loans had Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee and therefore were low risk. And the Chicago loan, they noted, would lead to the repayment of tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump still owed the investment-banking division.
A top executive with responsibility for the private bank discussed the loans with Mr. Ackermann, the chief executive, who supported them, according to two officials. A powerful committee in Frankfurt, which evaluated loans based on risks to the bank’s reputation, signed off.
“There is no objection from the bank to proceed with this client,” wrote Stuart Clarke, the chief operating officer for the Americas, in a Dec. 5, 2011, email, according to a recipient.
Deutsche Bank wired the money to Mr. Trump. The loans carried relatively low interest rates, executives said, but the business promised to be profitable: As part of the deal, Mr. Trump would hold millions of dollars in a personal account, generating fees for the bank.
“I have no recollection of having been asked to approve that private-banking loan,” Mr. Ackermann said in an interview. He added: “I would have approved it, if it came to me, if it was commercially sound.”
Ms. Vrablic’s relationship with the Trumps deepened.
Deutsche Bank lent money to Donald Trump Jr. for a South Carolina manufacturing venture that would soon go bankrupt. It provided a $15 million credit line to Mr. Kushner and his mother, according to financial documents reviewed by The Times. The bank previously had an informal ban on business with the Kushners because Jared’s father, Charles, was a felon.
In 2012, Jared Kushner recommended that the editor of The Mortgage Observer, one of the publications he owned, write a profile of Ms. Vrablic. The editor, Carl Gaines, knew Mr. Kushner was her client and objected, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
“Just go meet with her,” Mr. Kushner said. “You’ll figure something out.”
A gauzy profile of Ms. Vrablic was published in February 2013.
Shortly afterward, the private bank produced a promotional video featuring some of its marquee clients. The video was played at a retreat for Deutsche Bank’s senior leadership in Barcelona. In it, Ivanka Trump extolled the private bank’s work with her family and thanked their relationship manager, according to two people who saw the video.
.. In early 2014, Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, approached Ms. Vrablic about more potential loans.
The owner of the Buffalo Bills had died, and the N.F.L. franchise was up for sale. Mr. Trump was interested, and he needed to show the league he had the financial wherewithal to pull off a transaction that could top $1 billion.
Mr. Trump asked Ms. Vrablic if the bank would be willing to make a loan and handed over bare-bones financial statements that estimated his net worth at $8.7 billion.
.. Mr. Cohen testified to Congress last month that the documents exaggerated Mr. Trump’s wealth. Deutsche Bank executives had reached a similar conclusion. They nonetheless agreed to vouch for Mr. Trump’s bid, according to an executive involved.
Mr. Trump’s bid did not win, but another lending opportunity soon arose.
A federal agency had selected Mr. Trump to transform the Old Post Office Building in Washington into a luxury hotel. But his financial partner — the private equity firm Colony Capital, run by Thomas J. Barrack Jr. — pulled out. Mr. Trump needed nearly $200 million.
.. Because of his decades-long pattern of defaults and his increasingly polarizing political rhetoric — among other things, he had been spreading a lie about President Barack Obama being born overseas — Mr. Trump remained untouchable for most banks.
Ms. Vrablic was willing to help.
In a memo outlining the rationale for the Old Post Office loan, Ms. Vrablic said Mr. Trump was expected to add large sums to his brokerage account if he received the loan, according to an executive who read the document.
This time, there was less internal opposition. One reason: Mr. Jain — by then the bank’s co-chief executive — had a solid relationship with Ms. Vrablic. Mr. Jain accompanied her to meetings with high-profile clients, and he praised her work to colleagues, multiple executives said.
..On a foggy Wednesday in February 2013, Ms. Vrablic and Mr. Jain went to Trump Tower to meet with Mr. Trump, according to two executives with knowledge of the meeting. Ms. Vrablic’s rapport with the client was immediately clear: Mr. Trump’s assistant greeted her as an old friend, and she seemed relaxed with Mr. Trump and his daughter, one executive said.
.. They discussed Mr. Trump’s finances over lunch, and Mr. Jain said he was surprised by his low level of debt, the executives said. After lunch, Ms. Vrablic told her colleagues that Mr. Jain had sounded upbeat about Mr. Trump’s finances.
A $170 million loan to pay for the overhaul of the Old Post Office went through in 2015, and Mr. Trump added more money to his brokerage account. (In May 2016, he reported up to $46 million of stocks and bonds in the account.)
.. On Aug. 6, 2015, Mr. Trump participated in the first Republican presidential debate. He clashed with the Fox News moderator, Megyn Kelly. He flew back to New York early the next morning. That evening, he called in to a CNN talk show and said of Ms. Kelly that there was “blood coming out of her wherever.”
In the intervening hours, Mr. Trump had used a black Sharpie to sign documents for another loan from Deutsche Bank: $19 million for the Doral resort. That brought to more than $300 million the total lent under Ms. Vrablic.
.. On the campaign trail, rivals assailed Mr. Trump’s financial history. In response, he pointed to Deutsche Bank-funded successes like the Old Post Office project, now a gleaming hotel a few blocks from the White House.
.. In early 2016, Mr. Trump asked Ms. Vrablic for one final loan, for his golf course in Turnberry, Scotland.
.. Ms. Vrablic said yes, but a fight soon erupted.
Jacques Brand, who was in charge of Deutsche Bank’s American businesses, angrily objected, partly because of Mr. Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
Ms. Vrablic appealed the decision. Senior executives in Frankfurt, including Christian Sewing, who would become chief executive in 2018, were shocked that the private bank would consider lending Mr. Trump money during the campaign, bank officials said.
The bank’s reputational risk committee killed the transaction in March 2016.
.. That same month, as The Times was preparing an article about Mr. Trump’s excommunication from Wall Street, he cited his warm relationship with Deutsche Bank.
.. “They are totally happy with me,” he said to The Times. “Why don’t you call the head of Deutsche Bank? Her name is Rosemary Vrablic. She is the boss.”
.. After Mr. Trump won the election, Deutsche Bank’s board of directors rushed to understand how the bank had become the biggest lender to the president-elect.
A report prepared by the board’s integrity committee concluded that executives in the private-banking division were so determined to win business from big-name clients that they had ignored Mr. Trump’s reputation for demagogy and defaults, according to a person who read the report.
The review also found that Deutsche Bank had produced a number of “exposure reports” that flagged the growing business with Mr. Trump, but that they had not been adequately reviewed by senior executives.
.. On Deutsche Bank’s trading floor, managers began warning employees not to use the word “Trump” in communications with people outside the bank. Salesmen who violated the edict were scolded by compliance officers who said the bank feared stoking public interest in its ties to the new president.
One reason: If Mr. Trump were to default on his loans, Deutsche Bank would have to choose between seizing his assets or cutting him a lucrative break — a situation the bank would rather resolve in private.
.. Two years after Mr. Trump was sworn in, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. The chamber’s financial services and intelligence committees opened investigations into Deutsche Bank’s relationship with Mr. Trump. Those inquiries, as well as the New York attorney general’s investigation, come at a perilous time for Deutsche Bank, which is negotiating to merge with another large German lender.
Next month, Deutsche Bank is likely to start handing over extensive internal documents and communications about Mr. Trump to the congressional committees, according to people briefed on the process.
Ms. Vrablic, who is intensely private and rarely discusses her personal life with colleagues, declined to comment. People familiar with her thinking said she expected to be called to testify publicly on Capitol Hill.
As has been discussed ad nauseum, even if Mueller identifies criminal activity on the part of Donald Trump, Mueller will not indict a sitting president.
The real questions that should be asked are:
- Will Mueller identify coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign? This is Mueller’s original mandate.
- Will Mueller indict anyone from the Trump campaign with criminal conspiracy for this coordination? This follows from Mueller’s mandate.
- Will Mueller show that Trump was aware of the coordination and criminal conspiracy?
We already know the answer to the first question. The Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians directly and indirectly during the 2016 campaign. Here are 5 salient examples.
- Graf 44 of the July 2018 GRU indictment states that an American in contact with the Trump campaign was in touch with the Russian hackers in August 2016 discussing material stolen from the Clinton campaign. Roger Stone has admitted to being this American.
- Graf 11 of the January 2018 Roger Stone indictment states that in June 2016 Roger Stone was aware of stolen DNCC material before the DNCC publicly announced the hack.
- Graf 12 of the January 2018 Roger Stone indictment states that in July 2016 senior campaign officials were directed to contact Roger Stone about the stolen DNCC material.
- Court proceedings from the February 2018 Manafort hearing state that on August 2, 2016 Paul Manafort, while head of Trump’s presidential campaign, provided proprietary polling data to a Russian associated with the GRU.
- Court proceedings from the February 2016 Manafort hearing state that during the same August 2, 2016 meeting, the Russian associated with the GRU discussed sanction relief with Manafort.
Clearly the Trump campaign was interacting with the Russians. Mueller has already publicly identified some of this coordination. As well, paging through the Stone indictment and especially the Manafort proceedings, there are numerous redaction throughout. Mueller is aware of quite a few more interactions than he has made public. It is only a question of how deep this coordination ran.
Regarding the second question. It has been a source of puzzlement among people closely following Mueller’s progress why no Americans have been charged with activities related to the 2016 election. The charges to date have related to financial crimes before the election or false statements after the election.
Some have claimed that Mueller has not filed any indictments because there was no criminal activity during the election. This position is, at best, misguided, as criminality is apparent in the publicly released information.
Roger Stone’s activities, particularly his interaction with the Russian hackers, were criminal. Before Mueller is done, Stone will be indicted, at a minimum for conspiracy to hack the Clinton campaign, but also likely for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States in relation to his efforts with Russia to influence the election.
Paul Manafort’s activities, in particular his supplying of polling data to the Russians, appear criminal. Either Manafort stole the data from the Trump campaign, or Manafort acting as chairman of the campaign, was enlisting the aid of Russians to influence the election. Manafort will almost assuredly be indicted for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.
Given that we know Mueller can charge at least two individuals who were part of, or associated with, the 2016 Trump campaign, why hasn’t Mueller filed any indictments? It goes to reason that Mueller is waiting to file multiple indictments at a later date, and not just for the above activity.
One might ask who else might be indicted? Mueller has yet to interview either Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner about the 2016 campaign. Given that Mueller has interviewed pretty well everyone else associated with the campaign, and give that both of these individuals were at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians during the campaign, it is telling that neither has been interviewed. An obvious conclusion from this is that both are targets of the investigation and likely will be indicted before Mueller is finished.
All evidence points to Mueller filing multiple indictments for conspiracy to defraud the United States. It is a foregone conclusion that Stone and Manafort will be charged. It is quite possible that Don Jr. and Kushner will be charged as well.
About the third question, will Mueller show that Trump was aware of the conspiracy?
This is the million dollar question. Has Mueller found a smoking gun linking Trump to a criminal conspiracy with the Russians?
Clearly Trump is involved with, nay in bed with, Russia. One would have to be willfully ignorant to not notice how Trump has consistently thwarted efforts to sanction Russia, and how Trump has gone out of his way to have private conversations with Putin. But that is not the question. The question is whether Mueller can prove that Trump agreed to conspire with the Russians.
Mueller has hinted that he has some evidence of Trump’s direct involvement. As noted above, the Stone indictment indicates someone directed senior campaign officials to reach out to Stone. Exactly who could direct senior campaign officials? Was that Trump?
We do not know, although Mueller undoubtedly does.
- Mueller has already shown that member of the, or people associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians during the 2016 election.
- Information Mueller has released strongly suggests that individuals associated with the Trump campaign will be charged with criminal conspiracy.
- Mueller has yet to provide evidence that Trump was aware of, or involved in, this criminal activity.
So yes, I am still waiting with baited breath for Mueller to complete his investigation, and to see whether he implicates Trump in Russia’s efforts to influence the election.
Rachel Maddow points out the frequency with which Donald Trump Jr.’s name seems to come up in discussions of Wikileaks contacts and potential lies to Congress, both of which appear to be topics of prosecutorial interest by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.