Emails Reveal Top Trump Accountant Had Secret Campaign Role

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
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As Donald Trump’s first criminal trial moves through its second week of testimony, the prosecution is calling witnesses that can attest to Trump’s personal involvement in the underlying crime that the case is built on—but one witness won’t be at their disposal, and documents obtained by The Daily Beast suggest that he could provide pivotal information about that very crime.

That witness is longtime Trump Organization financial controller Allen Weisselberg, a convicted tax cheat whose perjury plea deal earlier this month reportedly took his testimony off the table. But while Weisselberg’s personal testimony may not be key, he left behind a potentially priceless paper trail.

The prosecution has already highlighted Weisselberg’s central role, saying that they will present the accountant’s handwritten notes documenting the allegedly fraudulent reimbursement scheme that Trump is charged with carrying out. But other documents obtained by The Daily Beast suggest that Weisselberg was in a unique position among the other witnesses—not only was he handling the Trump Org’s books, he was also apparently advising the campaign at the same time.

Federal Election Commission records don’t show any campaign payments to Weisselberg, however, raising the prospect that Trump’s right-hand man may himself have made unreported contributions in the form of services for his 2016 bid.

Trump Trial Shifts Focus to the Dirty World of Hush Money

According to internal Trumpworld emails, Weisselberg was an “enormous help” to the 2016 campaign—a fact that has not appeared in previous public reporting, despite prior coverage of these same documents. Additionally, these records show that the hardened bookkeeper was apparently quite familiar with FEC filings. This cuts to the heart of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case: that the hush-money payoff to adult film star Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election was a campaign finance crime, which Trump then went to great lengths to keep from the public—allegedly criminal lengths.

Weisselberg—who last month pleaded guilty to perjury after doing a stint in Rikers Island on tax fraud charges—is already known to have a key role on one side of the payments. Prosecutors told jurors last week that they will present handwritten documents where Weisselberg lays out the plan to reimburse former Trump attorney Michael Cohen for his $130,000 payoff to Daniels, with those reimbursements coming via a series of checks from the Trump Organization—which were “grossed up” for tax purposes and disguised as “retainers” for legal work that Cohen never performed.

However, Weisselberg was not previously reported to have had any deep involvement at the same time with the campaign. But in an introductory email sent to Presidential Inaugural Committee treasurer Doug Ammerman in April 2017, a former senior Trump campaign aide—Rick Gates—lauded Weisselberg’s talents as “an enormous help to us on the campaign.”

A Trump spokesperson didn’t return The Daily Beast’s comment request.

The documents obtained by The Daily Beast are significant because they put Weisselberg on both sides of the hush-money affair. They also show that, just months after the election, Weisselberg was conversant and comfortable with FEC reports—so comfortable, in fact, that Trump’s aides turned to him to help audit campaign finance reports.

“Mr. Weisselberg for sure [knew] about the entire discussions and negotiations prior to the election,” Cohen said in his 2019 congressional testimony. Weisselberg’s name also came up in an audio recording that Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, previously released, where Cohen tied Weisselberg to the hush-money payment ahead of the election, saying, “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up.”

Former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg is handcuffed after being sentenced at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg is handcuffed after being sentenced at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Curtis Means/AFP via Getty Images

But by the spring of 2017, all of that was thought to be in the rearview. Instead, Trump’s political team was now scrambling to smooth out the accounting for his Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC). That group, which raised and spent more than $100 million in just 72 days, almost immediately drew scrutiny and criticism for apparent self-dealing to the Trump Organization, with years of drawn-out investigations and legal proceedings finally culminating in a $750,000 settlement two years ago.

But even at the time, the PIC team was struggling to keep its books straight. Three months after the event, they brought Weisselberg in.

“I would like to introduce you to Allen Weisselberg who is with the Trump Organization and was an enormous help to us on the campaign,” Gates wrote in an April 19 email. “Please reach out to Allen and walk him through [the] auditing process for PIC and the activities that were conducted throughout [the] project.” (Less than a year later, Gates pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiring to conceal millions of dollars that he and former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort had laundered out of Ukraine.)

Gates didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s comment requests.

A printed copy of that email contains handwritten notes in Weisselberg’s scrawl, also dated April 17, noting that he “spoke to Rick Gates today about the inauguration accounting.” Those notes also say that Gates was going to contact the Trump campaign’s FEC compliance firm, Red Curve, to “send me full reports showing all money raised and spent.” (The Daily Beast reported this month that Red Curve has recently facilitated millions in legal fee reimbursements from Trump political groups, now the subject of a federal complaint.)

Then, in a separate email chain one month later, Weisselberg revealed that his audit work on behalf of the PIC involved a review of the committee’s FEC reports.

“After reviewing the FEC filing dated 4/18/17 the net donations on line 7 of $106,715,308.29 and the PIC revenue on your report of $105,133,603.00 differ by $1,581,706.29,” Weisselberg wrote to PIC budget director Heather Martin. “What caused this difference?”

In response, Martin informed Weisselberg that the committee had just filed a correction, and attached the full version of the new FEC report, with raw data.

“Since FEC report was filed we received an additional 1k in donations from Farmer Brothers Coffee for which an amendment will be submitted to the FEC,” Martin wrote. “The full detail of the entire FEC report raw data is attached which includes the in-kind contributions beginning on line 660.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments during his 2016 campaign.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments during his 2016 campaign.

Curtis Means/Getty Images

That last detail—about in-kind contributions—is also central to Trump’s current hush-money case. Cohen previously pleaded guilty to making an unreported and excessive in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign vis-a-vis his payment to Daniels.

Trump defenders, however, have sought to portray these laws as too complicated or obscure to follow.

“Bragg would have to prove that Trump not only understood the complex and convoluted campaign laws that few people comprehend, but that he intended to violate them,” Fox News commentator Greg Jarrett wrote ahead of the indictment last year.

But those laws are not that hard to follow—nor to anticipate. For instance, David Pecker, the former National Enquirer chief who helped coordinate hush-money payments on Trump’s behalf during the election, revealed on the witness stand last week that he’d known enough to hire a campaign finance lawyer ahead of one such payment—and kept any mention of “campaign” out of the contract. AMI was later hit with a major FEC fine and signed a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ.

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explained that in-kind contributions are standard fare among all campaigns.

“In-kind contributions are pretty simple. It’s right there in the name: in-kind,” Libowitz told The Daily Beast. “It’s something you give to a campaign or candidate that isn’t a monetary contribution.”

Any Lawyer Who Followed Trump’s Advice Would End Up in Jail

He explained that if supporters want to donate things like furniture or computers, or provide free catering or travel or other services, those have value and must be accounted for as a contribution. The value of in-kind contributions cannot exceed the individual donation limit—which in 2016 was a maximum $5,200.

“Campaigns deal with this all the time—people call and ask if they can donate things, and the campaigns will say yes, here’s how you can do it,” Libowitz said.

Asked about the revelation that Weisselberg had advised the 2016 campaign and audited FEC reports, Libowitz said that the veteran accountant would have certainly understood regulations around in-kind contributions.

“It’s definitely not a complicated matter for someone who spent decades working on the financial side of a corporation,” he said. “It’s not hard for anyone to understand, let alone a controller for a multibillion-dollar corporation.”

FEC filings show that Trump himself understood in-kind contributions. He reported making more than $630,000 worth to his 2016 campaign, including for meals, rent, payroll, and a software subscription. (Candidates can contribute to their own campaigns in unlimited amounts.)

Last year, The Daily Beast reported that Trump had also once personally signed and submitted a detailed affidavit in an FEC investigation demonstrating a deep understanding of in-kind contributions specifically.

However, FEC data shows no in-kind contributions from Weisselberg for the services in his advisory role, nor do they show him receiving any campaign payments for that work. Campaign finance rules carve out some narrow exceptions for permissible volunteer services, and while they include compliance work, the value of that work must still be documented.

Reporting does show that Weisselberg did have one previously known tie to the Trump campaign. In January 2016, Weisselberg wrote checks from the Trump Foundation to other charities, designed to benefit Trump’s candidacy. Those payments later contributed to a $2 million fine against Trump for violating New York charity regulations.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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