Which came first, the backroom deal, or the blackmail? Earlier today, news broke that the selection of Brett Kavanaugh was brokered in a backroom deal between Trump and Justice Anthony Kennedy before Kennedy agreed to retire. NBC has since expanded on that story, calling all the other names on the list of judges Trump was supposedly considering no more than “cover” to make it seem as if Kavanaugh was just one of several options when the deal was already done.
News that a Supreme Court seat was handed off as part of a secret arrangement brings speculation about just what else might have been part of that package. The answer is: Anything. While it may seem astounding that Trump and Kennedy made a deal over who would wield power on the court for decades to come, that may turn out to be the least astounding aspect of this story.
As the New York Times reported last month, Trump worked on netting Kennedy’s retirement almost from the moment he stepped into office.
In subtle and not so subtle ways, the White House waged a quiet campaign to ensure that Mr. Trump had a second opportunity in his administration’s first 18 months to fulfill one of his most important campaign promises to his conservative followers — that he would change the complexion and direction of the Supreme Court.
It’s unclear just how often, or in what kind of settings, Trump and Kennedy met. But there was one thing that Trump did bring up repeatedly, and in public—Kennedy’s son, Justin.
“Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.”
The media has been consistently reading this as a compliment. After all, Justin Kennedy was the head of real estate transactions at Deutsche Bank, which was Trump’s go-to lender long after every reputable bank had turned him away. But there’s another way of reading this—one that’s much, much less friendly. A way that adds hints of blackmail, political pressure, and a mutual protection pact to the Trump–Kennedy deal.
In 2016, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay a $7.2B fine for misrepresenting the contents and risks associated with said mortgage-backed securities. The bank is also under investigation over at least $10 billion in what appears to be “a sustained plot to shift and hide money of possibly dubious origin.” That’s only part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into money laundering through the bank. Money laundering that, as CNN reports, involved not just some very elaborate trading schemes, but some highly dubious loans.
Deutsche Bank has been a key lender to Trump businesses when other major banks have balked. Trump businesses have borrowed over $300 million for a Florida golf course and hotels in Chicago and Washington DC, according to financial disclosures and public filings from 2012 to 2015. Kushner disclosed an unsecured line of credit from the bank ranging between $5 million to $25 million that he shares jointly with his mother since 2015.
Anthony Kennedy’s son isn’t just an employee of Deutsche Bank. He’s not a teller or a branch manager. He’s a high ranking officer. Justice Kennedy’s son was the global head of real-estate capital markets. He’s at the heart of a bank that seems to be caught up in a network of shady arrangements, illegal mortgage instruments, and money laundering.
No one is better positioned to understand just how deep the muck at Deutsche Bank may be than Donald Trump. He not only has access to the information that’s been gleaned by the Department of Justice, he knows the details of his own deals with the bank. And he made those deals directly with Justin Kennedy.
In that light, recast Trump’s callouts to Kennedy’s son not as compliments, but as warnings. Say hello to your boy. Special guy … it would be a shame if something happened to him. Be a shame if the DOJ started really digging into his actions. Be a shame if he was to need one of those, what do you call them? Pardons. Now, where could he get one of those?
The view that’s now being spread through the New York Times and NBC News—that Donald Trump spent months trying to convince Kennedy to retire, and that ultimately he made it clear he would pick Kavanaugh to seal the deal—that’s an amazing story. The brokering of a Supreme Court chair in a behind-the-scenes deal, complete with a farcical attempt to make it seem as if there was a real look at other candidates. All by itself, that’s an enormous insult to the court, Congress, and the nation.
But it may also be the most generous view of what happened. Because while this is total speculation, and should be taken with a double helping of salt, there is a lot of material out there from which to speculate. Trump may not have gone to Kennedy smiling. He might have gone to him with a stack of papers … and a plan. If Kennedy would step away, Trump would name the one man who had already given assurances about his thoughts when it came to the president being free from dangers of indictments or investigations. In return, Trump would see that things went well for a “special guy.” A little blackmail. A mutual protection society. A very dark room.
That may be nothing but a theory. Hopefully, it is. But the actions of Trump and Kennedy in throwing a false story over a pre-packaged arrangement opens the whole nomination to special, well-deserved, scrutiny.
Note that SCOTUSBlog is throwing sand at this whole story. And honestly, let’s hope they are right.
The story that Justice Kennedy negotiated for months and retired only when he had an agreement that the President would nominate Kavanaugh as his replacement is almost certainly false.
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) July 10, 2018
NBC reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell has backed away from the initial tweet concerning the nature of the deal between Trump and Kennedy.
I’ve deleted this tweet because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement. I am told by a source who was not directly part of the talks that Kennedy provided Pres. Trump/ WH a list of acceptable replacements.
But this does not at all seem to align with what was said earlier.