Did Someone at Deutsche Bank Leak Trump’s Tax Returns?

Photograph Source: Alec Perkins – CC BY 2.0

With the initial brouhaha surrounding the leak of Trump’s tax returns fading, including finger pointing at the IRS and talk of criminal charges, has anyone stopped to consider whether someone other than the IRS leaked the documents? There seems to be two criteria to consider in identifying the leaker. First, who had “access” to Trump’s tax returns? This limits the pool of candidates to a relatively small number. Second, who has the greatest “incentive” to leak those tax returns at this time?

These questions came up on a hike with a friend on my last day of vacation. My friend asked who I thought leaked them? I hadn’t really considered it because I had been hiking the Sawtooth Mountains when the story broke. By the time I did hear about Trump’s tax troubles, the tax news was overtaken by the debate shit-show and Trump’s positive test for COVID. So when he asked me, I responded that I had no idea. My friend then said he thought it was obvious. Who had access to Trump’s tax returns going back decades, and who among them had the most to gain from leaking those returns to derail his re-election? When framed in that way the answer is obvious – the banks – and in particular Deutsche Bank.

Last February the New York Times Magazine reported:

At ­Deutsche Bank, he [Mike Offit] had lined up huge loans to finance Trump’s construction and renovation of landmark Manhattan skyscrapers, at a time when the default-­prone real estate developer and casino magnate was no longer able to get loans from most mainstream financial institutions. … The roughly $425 million that Offit helped arrange for Trump back in 1998 was the start of a very long, very complicated relationship between ­Deutsche Bank and the future president. Over the course of two decades, the bank lent him more than $2 billion — so much that by the time he was elected, ­Deutsche Bank was by far his biggest creditor.” [1]

In order to secure loans, banks require financial information including tax returns. Those financial documents go back decades for Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank meets the first criteria – “access.” The New York Times also claims: “All of the information The Times obtained was provided by sources with legal access to it” [2], which would also apply to Deutsche Bank.

The list of candidate leakers with “access” is short. The IRS could also have decades of Trump’s tax records, however the IRS generally destroys records after 10 years. The exception is when they suspect fraud or cheating – which very well may be the case with Trump. Others with access include Trump’s lawyers and accountants, but they lack the motivation unless Trump chiseled them – as he apparently often does with business associates. Still, it seems unlikely that anyone could gain that kind of access to the inner workings of Trump’s criminal enterprises without some kind of loyalty test or non-disclosure agreement. So it appears that “access” probably comes down to either the IRS or the banks – most likely Deutsche Bank.

The IRS as a prime suspect seems unlikely. The IRS is patient. They have allowed their investigation of Trump’s questionable $72.9 million federal income tax refund in 2010 to drag on for a decade. They don’t seem to be in a hurry. IRS tax agents are generally sticklers for rules and the law, and not necessarily motivated by partisan politics. Of course, a lone wolf IRS agent could be behind the leak, but that person would be taking a huge career and prosecution risk, with a high likelihood of being caught. This seems unlikely for personal partisan gain, especially when both halves of the political duopoly are in lock-step on most issues.

Trump’s statement to Hannity on Fox News: “They treat me horribly, the I.R.S., horribly”, seems designed to create a scapegoat to draw sympathy from Trump’s base who generally hate big government – and especially its most potent symbol that touches all our lives – the IRS. In contrast, Trump might be reluctant to publicly attack Deutsche Bank, his biggest creditor, even if he suspected them of the leak. His base would be less sympathetic to a dead-beat debtor unmasked by his creditor.

In addition, the creditor banks are highly motivated to derail a second Trump term. The New York Times article states: “Mr. Trump has an established track record of stiffing his lenders. But the tax returns reveal that he has failed to pay back far more money than previously known: a total of $287 million since 2010.” [2] If Trump is re-elected, the banks will not be able to go after him in court.

The article goes on to say: “The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise. Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.… And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.” [2] If Trump is re-elected, he can continue to run these assets into the ground and Deutsche Bank, and any other lenders, will lose their chance to recover any of their loans.

The banks also know they are in line behind the IRS. An “adverse ruling could cost him [Trump] more than $100 million” [2] on the audit of his $72.9 million tax refund claim in 2010. This is on top of a pandemic where his resort properties, like Trump’s Doral resort, are struggling. “The Doral resort asked Deutsche Bank to allow a delay on its loan payments. Analysts have predicted that the hotel business will not fully recover until late 2023.” [2] With Deutsche Bank close to bankruptcy [3] in our crumbling global economy, it seems unlikely the bank can afford a huge loss to Trump.

Trump’s financial problems are compounded by his personal guarantee of the loans: “This time around, he is personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, with most of it coming due within four years. Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president.” [2] And that is unlikely to happen with a Republican Party in charge of the Senate and a conservative Supreme Court. So, should Trump be re-elected, Deutsche Bank will be forced to sit back and watch the Trump family continue to run his businesses into the ground until there is nothing left to recover. $421 million is a lot of incentive to derail Trump’s re-election effort. When looking for a motive, follow the money. Of course this is speculation, but when the shoe fits.…


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/magazine/deutsche-bank-trump.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html

[3] https://www.globalresearch.ca/deutsche-bank-bankruptcy

Dr. James McFadden is a research physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. For the past dozen years he has studied economics, political history, psychology, racism and climate change. He now spends most of his time as a political organizer working with the Green Party and other organizations on issues of democracy and social justice. Email: jpmcfadden925@yahoo.com