We hope it does not surprise you to learn that President Donald Trump has a Russia problem. Since even before he took the oath of office, serious questions were being asked about his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin, and what role the latter played in getting a man with zero political experience elected the leader of the free world. A short list of things that have not quieted that speculation include, but are not limited to: Trump keeping national security adviser Mike Flynn on the government payroll even after being informed by acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn had lied about conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (and instead firing Yates); axing F.B.I. director James Comey, the man investigating his campaign, after having reportedly asked Comey to lay off Flynn; revealing code-word intelligence about ISIS to Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in the Oval Office; and, in the same meeting, reportedly telling the two men that Comey “was a real nut job” and saying, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Now, as former newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller picks up the investigation where Comey left off, Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee are asking Deutsche Bank to hand over any information that could shed a light on Trump’s special relationship with Mother Russia.
In a letter to the bank signed by Representative Maxine Waters and four other Democratic members of the committee, the lawmakers write:
“We [are] seeking information relating to two internal reviews reportedly conducted by Deutsche Bank (“Bank”): one regarding its 2011 Russian mirror trading scandal and the other regarding its review of the personal accounts of President Donald Trump and his family members held at the Bank. What is troubling is that the Bank to our knowledge has thus far refused to disclose or publicly comment on the results of either of its internal reviews. As a result, there is no transparency regarding who participated in, or benefited from, the Russian mirror trading scheme that allowed $10 billion to flow out of Russia. Likewise, Congress remains in the dark on whether loans Deutsche Bank made to President Trump were guaranteed by the Russian Government, or were in any way connected to Russia. It is critical that you provide this Committee with the information necessary to assess the scope, findings and conclusions of your internal reviews.
The letter goes on to question why, unlike most other financial institutions who refused to lend money to Trump due to his numerous bankruptcies, “Deustche Bank continued to do so—even after the President sued the bank and defaulted on a prior loan from the bank—to the point where his companies now owe [Deutsche Bank] an estimated $340 million.” It seems like a fair question!
Waters and Co. later cite numerous examples of the bank’s “pattern of regulatory compliance failures and disregard for U.S. law,” which doesn’t seem like the best way to convince a group of people to help you out. And, unfortunately, the request is simply a request—the members can’t compel Deutsche Bank to turn over anything, or even respond with a curt “Got your note, thx.” The committee could subpoena the German lender for the documents, but that would require cooperation from Republican members of the Financial Services Committee. Given that not a single one of them signed it—and that committee chair Jeb Hensarling would lay down in traffic for a financial institution—a team-effort subpoena seems unlikely.
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Guy who made a $2 trillion math mistake says the Treasury may have miscalculated when the government will run out of money, too
There were more than a few issues with the budget proposal the Trump administration released Tuesday. There is, for starters, the fact that the plan would slash critical programs like Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and food stamps, all of which make it glaringly obvious how little the G.O.P. cares for the poor when a big, fat tax cut is to be had. Perhaps even more brazen was the fact that the proposal contained what Larry Summers called “the most egregious accounting error[s] in a Presidential budget” ever: counting its $2 trillion in savings twice—once to make it seem like Trump’s tax cuts would pay for themselves (already a leap of faith), and then again to make the budget balance over ten years.
When asked about that error—if it can be called that, and not simply a scam—White House budget director Mick Mulvaney basically told reporters, Sorry, we wanted the numbers to look good for the big roll out, we’ll figure out the details later. Now, Mulvaney has casually dropped into conversation that his team may have also miscalculated when the government will run out of money. Per MarketWatch:
Testifying to the House Budget Committee . . . Mulvaney was asked how soon Congress needs to act on raising the debt ceiling. “My understanding is that the receipts currently are coming in a little bit slower than expected, and you may soon hear from Mr. Mnuchin regarding a change in the date,” Mulvaney said, referring to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The latest monthly budget report from the Treasury shows receipts are up almost 1% for the fiscal year to date. The year before, receipts were up about 1.2% through April, and the year before that, nearly 9%.
Later on Wednesday, Mnuchin told the House Ways and Means Committee, “I think it’s absolutely important that [the debt ceiling be raised] before the August recess and the sooner the better.”
Trump might not get to fire director of agency created to protect consumers
Earlier this week, Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans received some heartbreaking news: instead of delaying the implementation of a rule that requires retirement advisers to act in the best interests of their clients, Labor Department Secretary Alexander Acosta had decided that out of “respect for the rule of the law,” the fiduciary rule would start to go into effect on June 9. Having been previously compared by at least one critic to the Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery, finding out that the passage of the rule would go forward likely devastated Trump and like-minded lawmakers (and the insurance agents and brokers who will be forced to comply). And still the mood on Capitol Hill grows more grim. Now comes word that the president might not be granted the power to fire head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an Obama-era plot to protect consumers from being ripped off—nor the ability to neuter an organization that Representative Jeb Hensarling once described as acting like “a dictator.” The Wall Street Journal shares the sad story:
An appeals court appeared hesitant to rule that the structure of a federal consumer regulator created after the 2008 financial crisis was unconstitutional, with several judges suggesting the ultimate word on the issue may have to come from the Supreme Court. The case, up for argument Wednesday before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was brought by a New Jersey mortgage lender, PHH Corp., after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused the company of violating a real estate law and fined it $109 million. It raises questions about the bureau’s powers and independence from the White House, including the circumstances under which President Donald Trump could fire the bureau’s director. An 11-judge panel spent about 90 minutes considering the structure of the bureau, particularly whether being headed by a single director made it less accountable to the president, compared with agencies structured as multi-member commissions, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a statement that must have sent the G.O.P’s collective blood pressure skyrocketing, Judge Cornelia Pillard contended that agencies like the C.F.P.B. need independence in order to “try and avoid financial cronyism in favor of faithful execution of the laws.”
Real estate executive probably regrets embezzling $1.6 million, blowing it on “non-business expenses”
Rockie Gajwani, former C.E.O. of Trevi Retail, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three counts of tax evasion and one count of wire fraud in connection to all the times he stole money from his company to pay for “strip-club binges” and cocaine, which tend to go hand in hand. According to the New York Post, Gajwani recruited an employee to help “cover his tracks,” for a time, in a scheme that involved the employee writing him a check for $16,000 and Gajwani reimbursing him with a company check labeled “expenses,” which, as we now know, turned out to be less laptops and business cards and more drugs and lap dances. Gajwani’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Continuing to trade during an earthquake not most shocking detail of superstar trader’s story
A profile of Makoto Yamada by Bloomberg begins thusly:
As the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan rocked the Roppongi Hills skyscraper in central Tokyo, Makoto Yamada put on his helmet, dropped to his knees, and traded. “We had an option to leave, but we couldn’t leave the position at the time,” the 39-year-old former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. quant said, recalling the March 2011 quake and hours of aftershocks that he and some trader colleagues braved from the bank’s offices on the 48th floor. My “life is important, but protecting the P&L is more important.”
Crazy, to be sure, but as crazy as leaving Goldman Sachs after being named a managing partner, just one rung below gaining admittance to the uber exclusive ranks of Goldman Sachs partners? Bloomberg thinks not:
It was that kind of dedication that propelled Yamada from a childhood in regional Japan to a prestigious place studying computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, right at the height of the dotcom boom. He went on to join Goldman Sachs as a programmer before switching to the trading floor, using his math skills to value esoteric derivatives. Until then, Yamada’s career followed a standard trajectory for the financial industry’s elite. That all changed in 2015, when he made two surprising moves. First, he decided to leave Goldman, less than three years after making managing director at the Wall Street firm, one rank below partner. Second, ignoring the overtures of global hedge funds, he joined a Japanese brokerage.
If leaving Goldman before being named partner—a feat the Times has described as “one of Wall Street’s highest honors” and the induction ceremony for which we assume involves being dipped in water in the basement of the bank’s headquarters and branded by Lloyd Blankfein, wearing a cloak and lit only by candlelight—doesn’t keep Yamada up at night, it should.
Fed sets process to wind down $4.5 trillion balance sheet (CNBC)
The Trump Organization is flirting with a major constitutional violation (The Hive)
Fiscal conservative eviscerates Trump’s budget (CNN Money)
This Old School Hedge Fund Is Going Quant (W.S.J.)
Five Accused of Trading Illegally on Health Policy Leaks (Dealbook)
China Can’t Sustain Its Debt-Fueled Binge, Moody’s Says (NYT)
Carl Icahn Guides Trump’s Policy and Scores $60 Million (Bloomberg)
Blackstone’s $100 Billion Bridge-and-Tunnel Man (W.S.J.)
Experts: Trump’s speaking style “raises questions about his brain health” (The Hive)