An Egyptian Bank Claimed Details of a Suspected $10 Million Payment to Trump Might be in China

Back on September 19, 2018, then DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell denied a motion brought by an Egyptian bank to quash a subpoena for information on a suspected $10 million payment made to then-candidate Trump in fall 2016. That set off litigation that continued, at the District, Circuit, and Supreme Courts, for at least nine months.

As CNN described in 2020, not long after the investigation got shut down under Bill Barr, investigators had been trying to see whether Egypt (or some entity for which Egypt served as go-between) provided the money that Trump spent on his campaign weeks before the election.

For more than three years, federal prosecutors investigated whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed millions of dollars Donald Trump donated to his own campaign days before he won the 2016 election, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

The investigation, which both predated and outlasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, examined whether there was an illegal foreign campaign contribution. It represents one of the most prolonged efforts by federal investigators to understand the President’s foreign financial ties, and became a significant but hidden part of the special counsel’s pursuits.

The investigation was kept so secret that at one point investigators locked down an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, so Mueller’s team could fight for the Egyptian bank’s records in closed-door court proceedings following a grand jury subpoena. The probe, which closed this summer with no charges filed, has never before been described publicly.

Prosecutors suspected there could be a link between the Egyptian bank and Trump’s campaign contribution, according to several of the sources, but they could never prove a connection.

It took months of legal fight after Judge Howell denied that motion to quash before the Egyptian bank in question complied, and once they got subpoena returns, prosecutors repeatedly complained that the bank was still withholding information, which led prosecutors to reopen the investigation with a new grand jury.

That much we know from documentation unsealed back in 2019 (part one, part two, part three), in response to a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press request for unsealing.

On August 17, 2023, while she was still Chief Judge, Beryl Howell ordered the government to post newly unsealed sets of some of the orders she issued during the litigation. On Thursday, Chief Judge Boasberg ordered that newly redacted set of opinions to be released. While Howell released six opinions in June 2019 along with the other materials from the case — with redactions done digitally, thereby hiding the length of redactions — just three new versions of her orders got released last week:

These may be limited to orders incorporated as appendices in prior appeals, which might also explain why the first two appear twice in the newly-released materials.

Much of the newly unsealed material pertains to a fight over how much Alston & Bird, the law firm representing the Egyptian bank, could say about the litigation publicly. Among other things, prosecutors under Robert Mueller objected to their own names appearing publicly, out of a desire to tie this litigation to the narrow scope of Mueller’s investigation into interference in 2016.

One thing made clearer by a redaction in that January 2019 opinion on public comments is that the DC Circuit considered what public comments the two sides could make, in addition to SCOTUS, as part of its denial of cert.

It’s possible that the DC Circuit has weighed in, secretly. Among the details newly unsealed in the original opinion are the names of two of the bank’s other lawyers: Ashraf Shaaban (who appears to be or have been in-house counsel) and Mona Zulficar (who runs a Cairo corporate law firm). Those lawyers were named in conjunction with declarations they submitted arguing some part of the claim that Egyptian Anti-Money Laundering law would prohibit compliance with the subpoena as would unspecified law in a third country, described as Country B

Howell described that Alston & Bird are relying on,

conclusory declarations by [redacted] own Country A in-house and retained counsel, which themselves cite no legal authority on this question of [redaction] See Decl. of Ashraf Shaaban,, Mov’s Group Legal Counsel (“Shaaban Decl.”)¶7, ECF No. 3-6; Suppl. Decl. of Mona Zulficar, “Suppl. Zulficar Decl.”)¶ 4, ECF No. 12. The Court gives these declarations little weight. [bold newly unsealed, compare this passage with this one]

So if we can figure out who Shaaban works or worked for to ID the bank.

It’s the unspecific third country, Country B, that is the most interesting new disclosure, however.

The newly unsealed passages do not identify which country, described as Country A and which CNN identified as Egypt, owns this bank. But they do show that the bank or its lawyers wanted to share the subpoena with personnel in Cairo.

The newly unsealed passages do identify which third country’s laws, unspecified laws, might prohibit lawyers from searching for responsive documents in that country: China.

In other words, a bank owned by Egypt said it couldn’t comply with a subpoena seeking information on a suspected payment to Trump during the 2016 election, in part, because China’s laws would prevent that.

Update: Ashraf Shaaban works for the National Bank of Egypt.

33 replies
  1. Armadillo says:

    I have not read the underlying documents, but if the newly unsealed documents do not identify which country owns the bank, could it be the Egyptian branch of a Chinese state owned bank? Egypt’s laws may require partial local ownership of foreign financial institutions?

    • emptywheel says:

      They ID Country A as the country that owns the bank, and the place where the opinion IDs that country as Egypt remains redacted.

      Country B, China, is referred to separately. So no, this is not a Chinese-owned bank.

  2. Error Prone says:

    A lot of redaction. How, again, did “China” get unredacted? Who is it making redaction decisions, DoJ, or somebody else?

    Politico –
    3/17/2023 when Howell stepped down as Chief Judge – sequential paragraphs quoted below

    ” Howell seemed to freeze in her seat as the most senior jurist on the court, Judge Paul Friedman, publicly described her still-secret rulings in grand jury-related matters, pointing to press accounts of Howell ruling in favor of Trump in a contempt dispute over his office’s response to a grand jury subpoena for classified records and against Trump on an effort to assert attorney-client privilege in the same probe.

    “What fascinating issues!” Friedman declared wryly as Howell remained stone-faced on the dais. “We’d all love to read her opinions, but we can’t,” he said to laughter.

    Friedman did note, however, that Howell had issued 100 secret grand jury opinions during her seven-year term.

    Another colleague, Judge Tanya Chutkan, also alluded to Howell’s work resolving disputes related to the court’s grand juries over the past seven years.

    “There’s so much work Chief Judge Howell has done that we may never know about,” Chutkan said.”


    • emptywheel says:

      I suspect what happened is that after Alston & Bird (or possibly the DC Circuit) ruled that all lawyer names should be unredacted, Howell ordered DC USAO to review existing opinions for anything that should be unsealed, which had the effect of IDing the bank as National Bank of Egypt.

  3. Rwylie2001 says:

    Why isn’t this front page news!!??

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  4. Error Prone says:

    We voters are left hanging. The government-tied Egyptian bank, and “China” may, or may not, have been conduits for other persons or nations. We paid for Muller, we vote soon, and there’s much we lack as wishing to be informed voters.

    Possibly unrelated but within a month after the 2016 election, Bloomberg, (paywalled so I only see leading paragraphs),

    It is hard connecting dots when we are not permitted by our government to see the dots. Isn’t it?

    There are a number of DC insiders sitting on insider knowledge, Muller had a team, etc.

    Curious about Muller, I asked what’s-he-doing-these-days questions of Microsoft’s bot. Got back:

    [BEGIN MSFT AI]”As of today, Robert Mueller is not currently in any official government position. However, his legacy as a dedicated law enforcement official and investigator remains significant.”[END MSFT AI]

    So I asked, retired or having a private sector job?

    [BEGIN MSFT AI]”As of now, Robert Mueller is not officially retired, but he is no longer in any government position. After serving as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 2001 to 2013, and later as the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he has transitioned out of active government service1. However, there is no public information suggesting that he currently holds a private sector job.”[END MSFT AI]

    An OpenAI LLM with billions of parameters in its nueral net, and after digesting a multitude of web content, and it cannot tell me what work Muller is doing these days?

    Does any contributor know what Muller is doing these days?

    Crazy world.

    [Moderator’s note: AI content in this post has been re-formatted using blockquote tags to make it more clear to readers here which part of your comment is not human generated. Don’t do this again or your comment will be binned. /~Rayne]

    • emptywheel says:

      Do me a favor, Error Prone? Do not ever waste space here cutting and pasting from an AI bot?

      You’ve littered the site with something designed to be garble.

      • freebird says:

        AI stories can be fictive. To test AI for my edification, I asked about a situation where I knew what happened but AI completely made up a bubbameister.

        AI is not ready for prime time.

        • MrBeagles says:

          For reference sake:
          As to the question of AI capabilities, this near dissertation length blog post (link below, found link in either a LAWFARE or Just Security article the other day) does an excellent job giving an overview for the beginner and expert on the state of play in the massive developments of AI underway.
          My two cents- most of the public facing AI products of the past few years have been rolled out to soften the public to industry visions of AI ubiquity. Not unlike how Apple stages new features, or Microsoft’s project googly-eyed paperclip.
          The gulf between AI products and expert level production like Dr. Wheeler’s is an important AI benchmark that looks to be met very, very soon. Before 2030, probably much sooner. This timeframe factors into things like Taiwan, and Donnie DARVO wanting to be POTUS for life…. But I digress. The blog post is really good, especially in developing a common, colloquial language about AI

        • Rayne says:

          Reply to MrBeagles
          June 23, 2024 at 4:28 pm

          Thanks for the link. Please note the topic of this post — An Egyptian Bank Claimed Details of a Suspected $10 Million Payment to Trump Might be in China — and let’s get back on topic. There’s an open thread where off-topic material can be discussed. Thanks.

    • Dave_MBSC says:

      Robert Mueller went back to Wilmer Hale, where he appears to be a retired partner at this point. He’s two months away from being 80. That can be found with 2 minutes of googling. No AI involved.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Anti-money laundering laws usually promote information sharing, in order to reduce the chances of money laundering. So, defendant’s argument is questionable on its face. I would not expect that of China’s anti-money laundering rules, though. Transparency is not its friend, nor is it most banks’.

    No prosecutor or court would take at their word, a defendant’s lawyer’s version of applicable law without obtaining their own independent evaluation of it.

    National Bank of Egypt is nominally a private bank, but it’s Egypt’s largest, which would mean it has exceptionally close relations with the government of the day. It apparently has offices in NYC and Shanghai, along with hundreds of others.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As you say, an obvious issue is whether the NBE is the principal, or merely an agent, processing funds for a foreign principal, like a bank or other person in China. Neither is a good look for a political campaign, and it’s probably illegal for the campaign to accept such funds.

    Using an intermediary is not a good look either, as it suggests guilty knowledge. But choosing another foreign entity as an intermediary doesn’t reduce Trump’s exposure. It makes it worse No wonder Bill Barr got in on the act.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right: It could just be a transfer from Shanghai to NYC.

      Hell, given that CEFC was already cultivating Woolsey at that point, could be CEFC, or something similar.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Maybe Shanghai-based Arc Capital (more info available in my earlier comment that’s stuck in moderation, maybe due to too many links)

        • Rayne says:

          Marcy freed it for you; I think it was the links which held up your comment.

          One name comes to mind: Guo Wengui. How’d he all of sudden become bankrupt in the US? I have always had the impression information about him has been laundered along with money adjacent to him.

  7. Fancy Chicken says:

    Aren’t you supposed to be on holiday Dr. Wheeler? And yet somehow you find time to alert us to an investigation held close to the chest by DOJ that needs to be front page news.

    This needs to be investigated thoroughly not just by the media (though I doubt they will), but by The House Oversight and Accountability Committee even though they wrapped up their investigation of Trump’s violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and issued its report in January.

    The committee identified 5.5 million that China or its interests funneled into Trump properties and the Saudi’s spent a little over $615,000 at his properties- but no mention of the Egyptian bank issue that I can find.

    At the very least, Jamie Raskin and the democratic members of the Committee need to get a hold of this and use the powers they have to investigate further.

    Thanks so much for all you do. And I hope you dig in and get some answers as to the role Barr played in shutting down the investigation. The turnover of DC US Attorneys at the time is interesting in of itself and I bet reveals some very interesting history as well.

  8. klynn says:

    I just discovered in doing my own research on this donation that Team Trump has a practice of using $10 mil as a financial figure a fair amount. Multiple headlines popped up in my search but surprisingly reflected stories about “other” $10 mil contributions.

    Is this a bug or a feature for confusing accounting?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Apart from Trump’s inherent tendency to exaggerate, using the same figure for many payments to him creates potential confusion in tracing individual gifts, especially with limited access to personal or campaign accounting data and other records. It might also obscure total payments from the same source, which might be more newsworthy.

    • Rayne says:

      LOL Nice! So he has a per transaction price. What does $2 billion purchase at that rate, I wonder? What’s the price for droning an inconvenient major general or turning one’s head the other way when a US-based journalist is sawed up? Or implementing a Muslim ban which conveniently bans only Muslims from certain countries?

      • Super Nintendo Chalmers says:

        How much do you think he told Burgum that the price for a spot on the ticket is $10 million (or more)?

  9. Chirrut Imwe says:

    Thank you (again) Dr Wheeler. My first thought was not “why isn’t this on the front page” (too jaded for that), but “how can we get this in front of the public.” Calling your elected officials is a good first step.

  10. Tim Tuttle says:

    I’m shocked, shocked I say, that Bill Barr would have shut this down.

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    • Rugger_9 says:

      AG Barr has a lot to answer for when he faces his maker. The current rehabilitation tour isn’t fooling anyone.

  11. Savage Librarian says:

    Maybe ARC (or something like it) was involved:

    “How a Trump deal got a boost from a China-based financier”

    “Shanghai-based Arc Capital, an investment firm that has been the target of probes by securities regulators, is at the center of the deal to take Trump’s media venture public.”

    “Digital World Acquisition Corp.”

  12. Ladyfair says:

    Is there a statute of limitations on accepting foreign money for a campaign? Or is this mute since b barr did the squash?

      • Rugger_9 says:

        I think it’s five years from discovery of the crime, but I won’t mind being corrected on that. The trickle-truthing by the Egyptians would seem to extend the deadline. It still doesn’t hurt to ensure the publicity is thorough.

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