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Suspicious Minds

The media try to turn a humdrum non-story into a scandal. Again.

One of the more insidious forms of media bias is the story that, while technically true, misleads the audience. A great example came way back at the beginning of George W. Bush’s administration, with breathless reports of how the new President had sacked almost every U.S. attorney, as if his action constituted a major scandal. Left unmentioned was how these attorneys work for the Department of Justice—an executive agency—and therefore serve at the pleasure of the President. The mainstream media also conveniently forgot that Bill Clinton had done exactly the same thing upon assuming office, as that would have undercut the narrative that a routine personnel decision had corrupt motives.

In the biz, this is known as “the criminalization of politics,” and is a pretty common tactic deployed by leftist reporters against incumbent Republicans. Donald Trump has certainly received his share of this kind of treatment—witness the rather unusual description of William Barr as Trump’s “hand-picked” Attorney General (as though previous presidents hadn’t selected theirs), or the horror at seeing children on the border locked in cages when that practice actually originated with the Obama administration—wherein stories are presented without the context that puts them in the correct perspective. As a result, news consumers come away understanding even less about the issue than when they started, or worse: everything they think they know about the issue is wrong.

Of course, this doesn’t happen by accident. Quite the opposite, the objective of the media in these cases is to misinform, obfuscate and shape the narrative in a certain way. Take this headline from NBC News, for example:

Deutsche Bank employees reportedly flagged suspicious transactions involving Trump and Kushner

Sounds rather ominous, doesn’t it? Coupled with the brouhaha over Trump refusing to release his tax returns, it seems as if there has to be some big-time coverup of nefarious activity going on, right? Well, that’s certainly what the story attempts to imply.

Anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank flagged multiple transactions involving Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, from 2016 and 2017. Those specialists recommended the activity be reported to the federal government’s financial crimes unit.

But top executives at the global financial giant rejected that advice, current and former employees [said].

Whoa, money laundering? That’s some serious stuff, man! Not too many people know what it really is, other from what they remember from that one episode of Law & Order, but they know it’s something really bad that mob guys do. That must mean that Trump and that no-good Jared Kushner are all mobbed up, right?

The transactions that came under review “set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity,” five current and former Deutsche Bank employees [said]. Those transactions were then reviewed by the bank’s compliance staff, who prepared suspicious activity reports that they felt should be sent to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Suspicious activity reports! Oh, that Trump Organization might as well be a subsidiary of the Gambino Crime Family. Forget Robert Muller and obstruction—this is the thing that’s gonna stick.

Except for one little thing.

Those reports were never filed. . .the nature of the transactions was unclear, though at least some of them involved foreign entities or individuals, which raised red flags with bank employees.

But. . .but. . .with all those red flags, how could the bank have possibly decided not to submit those reports to federal authorities? Well, that’s where the bubble bursts, my friends—or, as the article glumly notes, those red flags “did not necessarily mean the transactions were improper.” So much for the story living up to that juicy headline.

NBC’s malpractice doesn’t stop there, however. In an effort to keep its audience suspicious of Trump, it also forgets to mention that pretty much every transaction that involves a wire transfer or a foreign entity is going to trip the automated alert systems that banks use to flag potentially suspicious activity. This happens hundreds of times a day in major financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, which is why they employ teams of anti-money laundering (AML) specialists to take a closer look at these transactions and see if there’s anything hinky going on.

The way it works is this: The computer spits out a report of any activity that meets a certain threshold, which is then examined by an AML specialist. That specialist then decides whether the activity warrants additional scrutiny. If so, a report is written and then kicked up to the suspicious activity reports (SAR) team. The SAR team then decides if they want to file a report with the feds. In the case of Trump and Kushner, the SAR people at Deutsche Bank looked at the AML findings and didn’t see anything that would prompt them to alert the authorities.

And before anybody starts thinking that maybe Trump used some of his juice to get the SAR people to see things his way, consider that Deutsche Bank is subject to the knew-your-customer laws implemented on all financial institutions in the wake of 9-11, and that they are obligated to report any activities that they find truly suspicious—under penalty of huge fines. For them to do the Donald a huge favor like that would entail tremendous risk. Make of that what you will.

In any case, for NBC to make a big deal over this is misleading at best. Then again, that’s what they do best—along with the rest of the national media.


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