But Mr. Leissner was soon pitching his superiors on a second 1MDB bond issuance, which the Malaysian fund again was offering to Goldman exclusively.
The assignment had to be vetted by a pair of internal Goldman committees whose mandates were to ensure that the bank did not get involved in deals that could hurt clients or put the bank and its reputation at risk, according to court documents.
The committees — made up of senior Goldman executives, including Stephen M. Scherr, who is now the bank’s chief financial officer — approved the 1MDB transaction. Goldman had long been weaker than its rivals in Asia, especially when it came to earning fees by issuing debt for clients. Goldman executives hoped the 1MDB bond deals would pave the way for other business with Malaysia, according to the current and former Goldman employees.
The second bond sale took place in October 2012. Before long, a third was being planned.
Around that time, Mr. Blankfein’s staff received a request for a private meeting with Mr. Low. Three years earlier, Mr. Blankfein had attended a meeting with Mr. Low and the prime minister, Mr. Najib, but it was mainly billed as a chance for Mr. Blankfein to meet the government leader and his associates, according to people familiar with the matter. Goldman officials have said it was possible Mr. Blankfein did not interact with Mr. Low at that gathering.
When Mr. Blankfein’s aides weighed the request for the 2012 meeting, they went to Mr. Leissner to see if Mr. Low merited an audience with the chief executive, according to the person who reviewed the Goldman emails.
Mr. Leissner vouched for Mr. Low. Days later, Mr. Blankfein and Mr. Low sat down and discussed investment opportunities in Southeast Asia, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The 1MDB fund was not on the agenda, and there is no indication that the men talked about the planned third bond sale.
In March 2013, Goldman was prepared to start work on a third 1MDB deal, this one to raise $3 billion by selling bonds. Mr. Ryan urged his colleagues to postpone it until after an election, in which Mr. Najib was vying for another term as prime minister, according to the people familiar with Mr. Ryan’s thinking.