AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to talk now about one specific way that Donald Trump's business interests might conflict with his role as president. For years, when Trump's needed a business loan, he's turned to struggling German bank Deutsche Bank. And since Trump was elected, Deutsche Bank's stock has been going up.
We wanted to learn more about this relationship, so we called up Jesse Eisinger. He's a senior reporter for ProPublica, covering Wall Street. Welcome to the program.
JESSE EISINGER: Hi. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So first help us understand why Donald Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank is special. Why are people looking at it?
EISINGER: Well, he has much more exposure to loans from Deutsche Bank than he has from almost any other bank, we believe. It's not entirely transparent exactly how much he has. But over the years, Deutsche Bank has literally lent him billions of dollars or committed billions of dollars to his entities.
CORNISH: And it's obviously a foreign bank, and yet it's run into some trouble with the U.S. government, right? What's going on?
EISINGER: Yes, Deutsche Bank, like all the other major banks in the world, had major problems in the financial crisis and also had bad lending practices and took advantage of borrowers and abused mortgage securities and now is in talks with the Department of Justice to settle those misdeeds.
And these settlement talks are ongoing, and there's been reports that it might be a settlement worth up to $14 billion that Deutsche Bank would have to pay, which is a huge amount. But if, for instance, the Trump administration wanted to go softer on Deutsche Bank because of those relationships, it might reduce that fine.
CORNISH: So help us understand that. The issue is that this will carry over into the next administration, and that's where people are scrutinizing this potential for a conflict of interest.
EISINGER: This is just one of the potential conflicts of interest. But yes, so the negotiations are ongoing. And Deutsche Bank could in theory offer better loan terms for the Trump Organization in exchange for a reduction of the fine.
On the other hand, Trump could threaten a greater fine in exchange for better loan terms or sweeter practices from the bank. It can go both ways. There's a carrot and stick here, and that's what the terrible problem is. And none of this would be transparent.
CORNISH: Who would I guess catch that, so to speak? Like, is there a financial regulator that would kind of have an eye on that sort of thing?
EISINGER: No, not really. The problem is that the president is exempt from standard conflict of interest rules that govern other government officials. His enforcement officers - they're allowed to use enormous discretion in what kinds of laws they enforce and who they enforce them to.
So they could decide not to enforce the rules for Deutsche Bank and say that it was up to their own assessment of the evidence. And we would never really know whether that was because of the evidence or because of this inherent conflict of interest with the president.
CORNISH: For those who have a concern about this particular relationship, does it make a difference if Donald Trump hands over his business to his children or, you know, otherwise tries to back away from the company?
EISINGER: No, that's not a solution at all because Deutsche Bank could seek to curry favor with his children, which would benefit them and also benefit Trump as well. This is going to be an ongoing problem that is virtually unsolvable.
CORNISH: So you've introduced more questions than answers, Jesse Eisinger.
CORNISH: If it's an ongoing problem, it can't be solved. What happens next?
EISINGER: Well, there has to be enormous scrutiny both from the media and hopefully Congress about this. But the problem here is that the Trump Organization sells the Trump brand. So short of full divestiture and a promise never to get back into the business, there will always be incentives for people to license the brand to curry favor with Trump both financially and to curry favor with his ego.
So I see this is an insoluble problem with some ways to mitigate the conflicts, but those solutions are highly unlikely to be taken by the Trump Organization.
CORNISH: Jesse Eisinger is a senior reporter with ProPublica. Thank you for sharing your reporting with us.
EISINGER: OK, thank you.
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