Sideways: Trump’s tangled ties to Wall Street

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By:
Jon Macaskill
Published on:

Donald Trump vilified Wall Street during his presidential campaign in stump speeches and an advert that featured an image of Goldman Sachs CEO and chairman Lloyd Blankfein as a symbol of the “corrupt machine” that needed to be overthrown.

Steve Bannon-R-600
Out of the shadows: Steve Bannon

Since Trump prevailed, Goldman has been a prime beneficiary of the stock rally that took US indices to record highs, and veterans from the bank are at the heart of the team managing his transition to the presidency.

There are stark differences, however, between the Goldman alumni within Team Trump. Steve Bannon, who will be chief strategist in the Trump White House, worked at Goldman in the 1980s in mergers and acquisitions, latterly specializing in media deals from a Los Angeles base. But he did not have a senior job at the firm and was impatient to leave, first setting up his own boutique investment bank in Beverly Hills and later working in film financing, which indirectly led him to a more recent role as chairman of Breitbart News, a right-wing website. 

Bannon channels and symbolizes the angry populism that helped Trump to win the election, and his recent self-definition as an “economic nationalist” – rather than a white nationalist as his critics charge – has done nothing to calm concern about his potential impact on the coming administration. 

Trump’s campaign finance manager Steven Mnuchin, by contrast, is an archetypal Wall Street insider, even though he too left Goldman long ago. His father Robert Mnuchin was head of equity trading at Goldman before retiring in 1990, and is still a prominent art dealer, gallery owner and member of New York’s philanthropic elite.

Steven Mnuchin stepped down as a Goldman partner in 2002, but unlike Bannon did not distance himself from his former colleagues or campaign to purge the system.

Quite the opposite: he has made skilled use of contacts and (like Trump himself) has donated to both Republican and Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton.

Mnuchin’s highest-profile deal after leaving Goldman came when he led a group of investors in the purchase of failed Californian mortgage lender IndyMac in 2009. That proved to be a hugely profitable trade for the buyers, who included numerous Goldman alumni along with John Paulson – a hedge fund billionaire who has recently been a prominent Trump supporter. Another investor was George Soros, a hedge fund billionaire who was a fierce Trump opponent and joined Blankfein as an example of the worst of Wall Street in the Trump campaign ad.

Inconsistencies

One of Trump’s many inconsistencies has been his attitude towards senior Wall Street figures. Despite railing against financial elites in the campaign, two of the names insiders have bandied about most often for appointment as Trump’s Treasury secretary are Mnuchin and Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan.

Both could appeal to Trump by signalling acceptance on the part of New York’s wealthiest inhabitants, at a time when the majority of people in his home city remain deeply opposed to his election.

Most top Wall Street banks stopped dealing with Trump many years ago, in reaction to bankruptcies and business disputes with his companies. Deutsche Bank kept lending longer than other firms, and also had private banking links to Trump, which has led to speculation that the new administration might encourage the Department of Justice to cut an easier deal for the bank, after initially pressing for a $14 billion fine for mortgage market abuses.

There is no evidence this will be the case, but the existence of tangled historical links between Trump, some of his advisers and a variety of Wall Street firms underscores that conflicts of interest in the new administration will not just come from the new president’s real estate and branding exposure.