By Jason Lange and Pete Schroeder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned the administration of George W. Bush in 2004 that big U.S. bank mergers were "totally out of control" and should be stopped as they were forcing businesses to borrow money from foreigners, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
Though it is 13 years old, the unsolicited letter from Trump, when he was a New York real estate developer and businessman, to then-Treasury Secretary John Snow sheds some light on Trump's attitudes toward big banks, which he has alternately lambasted and embraced since becoming a politician.
As recently as May, Trump said he was looking at breaking up big banks, echoing a campaign theme from 2016. But as president, Trump has also promised to roll back bank regulations, and he has hired Goldman Sachs veterans as close advisers.
In the February 2004 letter to Snow, Trump urged the Bush administration to block a historic merger between Wall Street giants JPMorgan Chase and Bank One. Unveiled a month before Trump wrote to Snow, the deal was completed in July 2004.
Trump also asked Snow to stop a merger then under way between Bank of America and FleetBoston Financial. It was completed in April 2004, a few months after the Trump letter, which Reuters obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and which has not been previously reported.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter shows that as a businessman and a reality TV celebrity, Trump was worried about bank combinations and businesses relying on foreign lenders.
"Hopefully, you can do something about this very serious situation - which has gotten totally out of control," Trump wrote. "If this present trend continues, there will literally be one bank left in New York and, perhaps, the country."
"This merger activity has made it almost impossible to deal with these institutions ... and is pushing a tremendous amount of business to foreign banks and lenders," he wrote.
A financial disclosure statement released last month showed that Trump owed at least $130 million to a U.S. unit of Germany's Deutsche Bank, a sizable share of his total debts of at least $315 million as of mid-2017.
Trump has not released his complete income tax returns, which would give a clearer view of his debts to foreign lenders. Amid a public debate on whether the president could be influenced by his debts to foreigners, Trump's lawyers said in May he does not owe money to Russian lenders.
JPMorgan and Bank of America declined to comment. Snow also declined to comment.
The United States had about 9,000 federally insured banks in 2004. That number was down by about half from 1984, due in part to aggressive buyout activity.
By 2017, the number of U.S. banks was down further, to about 6,000, while the share of assets managed by smaller community banks had fallen to 13 percent from 38 percent in 1984.
Before becoming president, Trump had a contentious relationship with commercial banks after a slump in his casino business. In 1990 he owed a combined $4 billion to scores of banks, according to a lawyer whose team led negotiations between Trump and 72 banks to restructure Trump's loans.
The Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy in 1991 and some of Trump's lenders vowed never to work with him again after failing to recover 100 percent of what they were owed.
But by 2004, Trump was back on the upswing. His television show "The Apprentice" premiered the month before he sent the letter to Snow. In a hand-written postscript to the letter, Trump wrote: "P.S. I MET YOUR SON IN FLORIDA - HE IS GREAT."
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Pete Schroeder; Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Diane Bartz; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler)