A ravenous appetite for risk

The NY Times dropped a big article on Deutsche Bank and Trump late yesterday, which Everyone Is Talking About.

Before Trump stole the presidency he and DB had a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s obvious how he benefited; how they did, not so much.

Mr. Trump used loans from Deutsche Bank to finance skyscrapers and other high-end properties, and repeatedly cited his relationship with the bank to deflect political attacks on his business acumen. Deutsche Bank used Mr. Trump’s projects to build its investment-banking business, reaped fees from the assets he put in its custody[,] and leveraged his celebrity to lure clients.

I’m not sure what it means to “build” an investment-banking business via bad loans to a cheat, but maybe the fees and celebrity were enough to offset that.

When Trump succeeded in stealing the election, DB got nervous. Employees were told not to utter the word “Trump.”

More than two years later, Mr. Trump’s financial ties with Deutsche Bank are the subject of investigations by two congressional committees and the New York attorney general. Investigators hope to use Deutsche Bank as a window into Mr. Trump’s personal and business finances.

Deutsche Bank officials have quietly argued to regulators, lawmakers and journalists that Mr. Trump was not a priority for the bank or its senior leaders and that the lending was the work of a single, obscure division. But interviews with more than 20 current and former Deutsche Bank executives and board members, most of them with direct knowledge of the Trump relationship, contradict the bank’s narrative.

In other words, the bank is lying.

The bank always knew he was dangerous.

But Deutsche Bank had a ravenous appetite for risk and limited concern about its clients’ reputations. Time after time, with the support of two different chief executives, the bank handed money — a total of well over $2 billion — to a man whom nearly all other banks had deemed untouchable.

What kind of lunatic has a ravenous appetite for risk? What were they doing?

It’s like this:

In the late 1990s, Deutsche Bank, which is based in Germany, was trying to make a name for itself on Wall Street. Its investment-banking division went on a hiring binge.

The bank recruited a handful of Goldman Sachs traders to lead a push into commercial real estate. One was Justin Kennedy, the son of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Another was Mike Offit, whose father was the writer Sidney Offit.

The Kennedy connection, as we saw, cast a big shadow on Justice Kennedy when he retired at a moment convenient for Trump. As far as I know nothing has happened to disperse that shadow.

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.

Jesus tapdancing christ. Oh yes those loans that other bankers considered too risky – the ones that sank the global economy and erased the savings of millions of people. Those loans. Whatever’s good for Mr Offitt, and screw everyone else; that’s capitalism.

So of course Trump was one such risky. Offitt approved loan after loan for Donnie Two-scoops.

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.)

Not long after that Offitt was fired for being reckless. He says he wasn’t reckless.

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.

Ick.

Starting in 2003 DB had a team selling bonds on behalf of Trump. They were a tough sell because people didn’t trust Donnie Two-scoops. Donnie promised the team a freebie at Mar-a-Lago if they sold the bonds; they sold lots of bonds; Donnie pretended he’d forgotten about the freebie but the executive in charge made him cough up. Then…

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.

But the other arms went right on hugging him.

Trump wanted another loan to build a 92-story skyscraper in Chicago.

As Deutsche Bank considered making the loan, Mr. Trump wooed bankers with flights on his private plane, according to a person familiar with the pitch. In a Trump Tower meeting, he told Mr. Kennedy that his daughter Ivanka would be in charge of the Chicago project, a sign of the family’s commitment to its success.

Or, rather, a sign of the family’s weird confidence in itself.

But there were warning signs.

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.

You’d think those would be enough in the way of warning signs, wouldn’t you? A massive lie about his net worth and mafia connections? Wouldn’t you?

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?

They’re kidding, right? No. Trump thought it was a brilliant idea.

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.

Was it all over between them then? Nah.

In 2010, Deutsche Bank and Mr. Trump settled their litigation over the Chicago loan. Mr. Trump agreed to repay most of what he owed by 2012, Mr. Schlesinger said.

Then Trump wanted another loan.

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.

I beg your pardon? “Aside from his history of defaults, he was an attractive borrower”? How is that a fact claim rather than a punchline?

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.

“I want to borrow money from you to pay back the money I owe you.” I can’t see any problem with that, can you?

There were people at DB who said let’s not, but others said yes let’s.

And then the campaign and the election happened.

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.

Hey that would make a nice name for a Trump bar and grill – Demagogy and Defaults.

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.

We look forward to it.

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