New York state regulators have subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s insurance broker, following testimony from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that Trump exaggerated his wealth to insurance companies.
That subpoena – acknowledged Tuesday by broker Aon PLC – signaled another line of inquiry into Trump’s private business, this time by New York’s Department of Financial Services.
“As is our policy, we intend to cooperate with all regulatory bodies,” Aon spokeswoman Donna Mirandola wrote in an email. She declined to answer further questions, saying, “We do not comment on specific client matters.”
Tuesday was a case study in Trump’s new reality of besiegement as multiplying investigations by state authorities, federal investigators and congressional Democrats began to dig into his business, charity and presidency simultaneously.
The White House rebuffed one such inquiry, telling House Democrats it would not provide documents about its process for granting security clearances. But that did not end the confrontation. It probably just delayed it: Democrats are discussing whether to demand that information under subpoena.
And, for Trump, other troubles were just behind that one. Another committee of House Democrats said they were preparing to ask for about 10 years of Trump’s tax returns. Trump has declined to release his tax returns, unlike other presidents in the recent past.
And still another committee – House Intelligence – announced it had hired a former federal prosecutor to lead its investigation of Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Daniel Goldman, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has a history of prosecuting securities fraud, racketeering and international organized crime.
As the inquiries multiplied, Trump’s tweets got short.
“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” the president wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, seemingly viewing all these inquiries as an effort by his enemies to overwhelm him.
At an afternoon event at the White House, Trump told reporters that Democrats had hurt their chances of working with him on policy issues.
“It’s too bad, because I’d rather see them do legislation,” Trump said. “Instead of doing infrastructure, instead of doing health care, instead of doing so many things that they should be doing, they want to play games.”
The Trump Organization declined to comment Tuesday. Trump still owns his business, although he has handed day-to-day control of it to his sons Don Jr. and Eric, and to longtime executive Allen Weisselberg.
The past few days have accelerated the probes into Trump’s past and present, particularly following testimony by Cohen, once Trump’s self-described “fixer.” Cohen spent seven hours telling a House committee about the inner workings of Trump’s company.
At one point, Cohen said Trump used exaggerated statements of his own wealth to impress journalists, reassure lenders and persuade insurance companies to lower his premiums.
“When we were dealing . . . with insurance companies, we would provide them with these copies so that they would understand that the premium, which is based sometimes upon the individual’s capabilities to pay, would be reduced,” Cohen testified.
“And all of this was done at the president’s direction and with his knowledge?” asked Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
“Yes,” Cohen said.
That testimony preceded the subpoena from New York’s Department of Financial Services, which regulates insurance in the state. The Trump Organization is headquartered in Manhattan.
The department sent Aon a nine-page subpoena, according to the New York Times, which first reported that it had been issued. The department asked for all communications between Aon and Trump or the Trump Organization, as well as internal documents in which Aon employees discuss Trump.
Two people familiar with the subpoena said the Times’ description was accurate.The Department of Financial Services did not respond to requests for comment. The scope of the inquiry and the department’s focus are still unclear.
Separately, congressional Democrats spent the early days of this week laying out detailed demands for documents from Trump, his family, his underlings and his business partners. On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee sent letters to 81 people and entities asking for documents the committee wants to examine in a host of Trump-related inquiries.
Judiciary’s document request seeks information from Trump’s two adult sons, business associates, political confidants and others. It touches on a wide array of matters, including the president’s business dealings with Russia, the firing of James Comey as FBI director and hush payments made to women who say they had affairs with Trump.
Democrats, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., plan to seek Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that gives chairmen of House and Senate tax-writing committees broad powers to demand the tax returns of White House officials, according to people briefed on those plans.
People involved in that effort said they are being deliberate so as not to make a mistake that jeopardizes the investigation.
“If we had done this a month and a half ago, we would not be prepared, we would be falling on our face, and we’d be looking at the rationale for what we’re doing,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J.
Trump has made clear to associates that he will resist this demand, according to three people who have been briefed on the discussions but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
If Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refuse, that would be likely to set off a court battle that would drag the process out for months or more than a year and into the 2020 election season.
“What the president will do is: He will, first of all, respond grudgingly and slowly. They will then negotiate,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., a staunch ally of Trump’s. “They will be subpoenaed. They will take that all the way to the Supreme Court.”
But the more immediate fight centers on Democrats’ request for documents pertaining to the White House security clearance process.
In a letter to the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said the committee request for the information was “without legal support, clearly premature, and suggests a breach of the constitutionally required accommodation process.”
Cipollone said his staff would brief the panel and allow them to view documents related to their investigation, though that offer has not been sufficient for committee Democrats in the past.
“We believe the best course is to move forward with this agreed-upon accommodation and then speak again once your review of the documents and the briefing are complete,” said the letter, which was dated Monday and released Tuesday.
The standoff comes just days after reports that Trump directed his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance despite concerns from the intelligence community. The New York Times first reported the news, which was later confirmed by The Washington Post.
Cummings, however, has been asking questions about the security clearance process for months, even garnering bipartisan support for his inquiry in the previous, Republican-controlled Congress.
In a statement, Cummings rejected the White House lawyer’s assertion that Congress does not have jurisdiction over security clearance matters.
“The White House’s argument defies the constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this committee, and just plain common-sense,” Cummings said. “The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform.”
A variety of other inquiries churned away in the background, including congressional investigations of Russian election interference and the Russia-related probe being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller III. Also ongoing are state inquiries into Trump’s use of his charity and into the hiring of undocumented workers at Trump’s golf courses.
Eric Trump said Tuesday on Fox News Radio that all of these probes are designed to undermine Trump’s success as president.
“These people are so desperate,” he said. “If you can’t win, what do you do? You obstruct, you try and impeach, you try and harass, you try and distract. I mean, that’s all these people know how to do. I mean, they can’t win.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · David A. Fahrenthold, Rachael Bade, John Wagner