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Trump's bid to buy Bills spurs three separate investigations

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump's failed attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills keeps coming back to haunt him.

In fact, it now stands at the center of three separate Democratic investigations aimed at getting to the bottom of the president's finances.

And if what happened earlier this week is any preview of what's to come, those investigations seem likely to prompt legal battles long before they produce any new revelations.

Trump and his companies on Monday filed a lawsuit against one of the congressional committees probing his finances, as well as against the accounting firm he's used for years. The president hopes a court will prevent that accounting firm from being forced to turn over detailed statements about Trump's finances, including those he filed in connection with his proposed purchase of the Bills.

"Democrats are using their new control of congressional committees to investigate every aspect of President Trump's personal finances, businesses, and even his family," Trump's lawyers say in that lawsuit. "Instead of working with the President to pass bipartisan legislation that would actually benefit Americans, House Democrats are singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically."

Democrats seem to think they found just that in information Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, gave to the House Oversight and Reform Committee in late February.

Cohen gave the committee abbreviated financial statements showing that Trump inflated his net worth by $4 billion while trying to finance his bid to purchase the Bills in 2014, which failed when the NFL chose Terry and Kim Pegula as the team's new owners.

Now the House Oversight Committee wants to know more about Trump's bid to buy the Bills. So do the House Intelligence and Financial Services Committees, which have launched a joint investigation. So does New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who's conducting her own probe.

Here's a closer look at the three investigations and where they stand:

A courtroom battle

Trump has long sought to keep his finances private, spurning Democrats who have tried to get the IRS to release his tax returns.

But this week, Trump showed that he would go to court to try to stop – or at least delay – the release of any potentially damaging information stemming from his bid to buy the Bills.

"We will not allow congressional presidential harassment to go unanswered," Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say they aren't harassing the president. They subpoenaed Mazars USA, his longtime accounting firm, because it has the details on the documents Cohen submitted to the committee in February.

Those bare-bones documents show Trump with a net worth of $4.56 billion as of June 30, 2012. But in a March 31, 2013, statement, Trump reported his net worth as $8.66 billion, largely thanks to the addition of a new $4 billion line item labeled "brand value."

Cohen testified that Trump inflated his net worth while seeking financing to buy the Bills – which, Democrats speculate, could be seen as bank fraud.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the Oversight panel and who is named in Trump's lawsuit, wants to get to the bottom of it all by subpoenaing 10 years of records from Trump's accounting firm.

"The committee has full authority to investigate whether the president may have engaged in illegal conduct before and during his tenure in office," Cummings said in an April 12 memo to colleagues.

In the lawsuit, Trump's lawyers cite the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' ethics rules, which bars accountants from disclosing personal financial information "without the specific consent of the client." The Trump lawyers did not cite another part of that ethics code, which requires accountants "comply with a validly issued and enforceable subpoena."

That being the case, Cummings indicated that the committee expects to get those Trump financial records even if the lawsuit delays things.

"The President has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress," Cummings said this week.

A hunt for bank records

Democrats in Washington aren't just pursuing Trump's accounting records. They are also seeking records from Deutsche Bank, long Trump's favorite lender.

That's because Cohen told Congress in February that Trump sent the German bank those figures that showed his inflated net worth.

"These documents and others were provided to Deutsche Bank on one occasion in which I was with him in our attempt to obtain money so that we can put a bid on the Buffalo Bills," Cohen said at the time.

That prompted the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees to subpoena Deutsche Bank, along with other lenders that worked with Trump over the years.

“The potential use of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern,” Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who chairs the Financial Services panel, said in a statement after The New York Times broke the story of the Deutsche Bank subpoena on April 15.

Waters said her panel's oversight role gave it reason to examine Trump's bank records for any possible wrongdoing. But Trump's son, Eric Trump, in a statement to The Times, vehemently disagreed.

“This subpoena is an unprecedented abuse of power and simply the latest attempt by House Democrats to attack the president and our family for political gain,” he said.

The Intelligence and Financial Services panels are also seeking bank records to see if they show any money laundering activities involving people in Russia and Eastern Europe, The Times reported.

New York AG's probe

In seeking Trump's Deutsche Bank records, James – New York's attorney general – beat the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees by more than a month.

She subpoenaed those records in early March. So now there will be parallel probes of Trump's Bills bid and his relationship with Deutsche Bank, one in Albany and one in Washington.

James has had nothing to say about the subpoena since the Times report March 11, but in issuing it, she keeps a promise she made regarding Trump on the night of her election last November.

"I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn,” she said.

That promise didn't exactly impress Trump, who in December tweeted that James, like her predecessors, "does little else but rant, rave & politic against me."

James' office did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the subpoena and her investigation.

Trump inflated net worth by $4 billion in bid to buy Bills

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