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A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God:

Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank


The headquarters of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. The bank has sought to distance itself from
President Trump since his election in 2016.CreditKai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Image

The headquarters of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. The bank has sought to distance itself from
President Trump since his election in 2016.CreditCreditKai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
By David Enrich
 March 18, 2019

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As President Trump delivered his inaugural address in 2017, a slight woman with feathered
gray hair sat listening, bundled in a hooded white parka in a fenced-off V.I.P. section. Her
name was Rosemary T. Vrablic. She was a managing director at Deutsche Bank and one of
the reasons Mr. Trump had just taken the oath of office.

It was a moment of celebration — and a moment of worry for Ms. Vrablic’s employer.

Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank were deeply entwined, their symbiotic bond born of necessity
and ambition on both sides: a real estate mogul made toxic by polarizing rhetoric and a
pattern of defaults, and a bank with intractable financial problems and a history of
misconduct.
Rosemary T. Vrablic, at top right in a white hooded coat, helped steer more than $300 million
in loans to Donald J. Trump in the years before he was elected president.CreditDaniel
Acker/Bloomberg
Image

Rosemary T. Vrablic, at top right in a white hooded coat, helped steer more than $300 million
in loans to Donald J. Trump in the years before he was elected president.CreditDaniel
Acker/Bloomberg
The relationship had paid off. 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.
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Then Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and the German bank shifted into damage-control
mode, bracing for an onslaught of public scrutiny, according to several people involved in the
internal response.

In the weeks before Ms. Vrablic attended his swearing-in, the bank commissioned reports to
figure out how it had gotten in so deep with Mr. Trump. It issued an unusual edict to its Wall
Street employees: Do not publicly utter the word “Trump.”

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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.

Over nearly two decades, Deutsche Bank’s leaders repeatedly saw red flags surrounding Mr.
Trump. There was a disastrous bond sale, a promised loan that relied on a banker’s forged
signature, wild exaggerations of Mr. Trump’s wealth, even a claim of an act of God.
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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.

Kerrie McHugh, a Deutsche Bank spokeswoman, said: “We remain committed to cooperating
with authorized investigations.”

The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization. A company spokeswoman,
Amanda Miller, declined to comment.

‘A Great Son!’
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.
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Mike Offit arranged the earliest loans for Mr. Trump at Deutsche Bank. He was fired in
1999.CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Image
Mike Offit arranged the earliest loans for Mr. Trump at Deutsche Bank. He was fired in
1999.CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times
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.
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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.)
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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.
Mr. Offit commissioned detailed models of the skyscraper at 40 Wall Street; Deutsche Bank
had lent Mr. Trump $125 million to renovate it. He gave one model to Mr. Trump and kept
another for himself.CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Image
Mr. Offit commissioned detailed models of the skyscraper at 40 Wall Street; Deutsche Bank
had lent Mr. Trump $125 million to renovate it. He gave one model to Mr. Trump and kept
another for himself.CreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

The Mar-a-Lago Reward


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!”
Donald Trump was a regular participant at the annual Deutsche Bank Pro-Am Championship
golf tournament, in Norton, Mass.CreditCharles Krupa/Associated Press
Image

Donald Trump was a regular participant at the annual Deutsche Bank Pro-Am Championship
golf tournament, in Norton, Mass.CreditCharles Krupa/Associated Press
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.
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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.

An Act of God
Around that time, Mr. Trump returned to Deutsche Bank’s commercial real estate unit —
which was housed in a separate part of the sprawling investment-banking division — for
another loan. This one was to build a 92-story skyscraper in Chicago, the Trump International
Hotel and Tower.
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Josef Ackermann, the bank’s chief executive, had publicly promised soaring profits, and with
many of the company’s businesses sputtering, the investment-banking group was under
intense pressure to grow.
A Chicago skyscraper was the focus of a court battle between Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank
that equated the 2008 financial crisis with an act of God.CreditNathan Weber for The New
York Times
Image

A Chicago skyscraper was the focus of a court battle between Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank
that equated the 2008 financial crisis with an act of God.CreditNathan Weber for The New
York Times

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.

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.

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?
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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.

Luring a Banker
Not long after Mr. Trump got the Chicago loan — but before it went south — Deutsche Bank
was expanding its private-banking division, which served the superrich. Executives said they
set out to hire Ms. Vrablic, whom they viewed as the best private banker in New York.
Ms. Vrablic, seen in 2012, was not a traditional private banker, and her bosses at Deutsche
Bank encouraged her to be aggressive.CreditMichael Nagle
Image

Ms. Vrablic, seen in 2012, was not a traditional private banker, and her bosses at Deutsche
Bank encouraged her to be aggressive.CreditMichael Nagle

Traditionally, private bankers discreetly manage customers’ wealth and act as high-end
concierges. Ms. Vrablic, who started her career as a bank teller and then worked at Citigroup
and Bank of America, did that and more. She also arranged large real estate and commercial
loans for her best clients.

To lure her, Deutsche Bank guaranteed that she would earn at least $3 million a year,
unusually rich terms for a private banker, and would bypass a layer of management to report
directly to Thomas Bowers, the head of the American wealth-management division,
according to people familiar with her contract.

“Rosemary is widely recognized as one of the top private bankers to the U.S. ultra high-net-
worth community,” Mr. Bowers said in a September 2006 news release. Deutsche Bank took
out an ad in The Times to celebrate the arrival of her and a few colleagues.
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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.

‘There Is No Objection’
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.

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.
Jared Kushner introduced his father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, to Rosemary Vrablic. Mr.
Kushner and Ms. Vrablic attended events together, including this one at the Frick Collection
in 2014.CreditMatteo Prandoni/BFA
Image

Jared Kushner introduced his father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, to Rosemary Vrablic. Mr.
Kushner and Ms. Vrablic attended events together, including this one at the Frick Collection
in 2014.CreditMatteo Prandoni/BFA

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.
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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.

Ms. Vrablic and Mr. Bowers tentatively agreed to both loans.

Because these would be the private bank’s first transactions with Mr. Trump, they needed
approval up the chain of command.

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.
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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.
Josef Ackermann was the first of two Deutsche Bank chief executives to approve the bank’s
relationship with Mr. Trump.CreditRalph Orlowski/Getty Images
Image

Josef Ackermann was the first of two Deutsche Bank chief executives to approve the bank’s
relationship with Mr. Trump.CreditRalph Orlowski/Getty Images

“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.”

The C.E.O. Meets Trump


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.


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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.
Anshu Jain argued against lending to Mr. Trump when Mr. Jain was part of Deutsche Bank’s
investment-banking division. But that changed when he became the bank’s co-chief
executive.CreditJean-Christophe Bott/European Pressphoto Agency

Image
Anshu Jain argued against lending to Mr. Trump when Mr. Jain was part of Deutsche Bank’s
investment-banking division. But that changed when he became the bank’s co-chief
executive.CreditJean-Christophe Bott/European Pressphoto Agency
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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.”
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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.

Shock and Anger


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.
The Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, was financed with a loan
from Deutsche Bank.CreditEva Hambach/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Image

The Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, was financed with a loan
from Deutsche Bank.CreditEva Hambach/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.
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“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.”

Demagogy and Defaults


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.
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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.