For Trump, Allen Weisselberg may be the man who knew too much
As the long-tenured finance chief of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg spent decades working as one of the senior figures in the president’s real estate business. Now, his reported cooperation with a probe related to Donald Trump’s financial dealings could have ramifications for both federal and states investigations into the president and his business dealings.
Prosecutors investigating Trump’s inner circle reportedly now reportedly have a limited deal with Weisselberg, who has provided testimony against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. If his cooperation expanded, it could play a crucial role in multiple ongoing investigations.
According to the Wall Street Journal, federal prosecutors granted immunity to Weisselberg in exchange for information about payments to Cohen, which were made to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to suppress their stories of alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies on Tuesday, including charges related to his personal finances and campaign finance law violations stemming from the payments designed to shield Trump from the damaging allegations during the 2016 presidential race. The U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, which led the Cohen investigation, declined to comment on this story.
The Associated Press subsequently reported that the immunity deal was “restricted to Weisselberg’s grand jury testimony last month in the Cohen case.” Weisselberg is in a unique position to fully lay bare the inner workings of Trump’s empire.
If prosecutors were able to secure Weisselberg’s broader cooperation, there could be dramatic ramifications. He almost certainly has valuable information on much more than the hush money payments.
A source familiar with the Trump Organization said Weisselberg, who did not respond to requests for comment, was intimately involved in every aspect of the company’s finances and even helped craft the statement Trump debuted during the campaign describing his net worth.
“Every bill went through him,” the source said of Weisselberg.
Trump has attacked allies who turned on him by either airing dirty laundry in the press or a courtroom. In the three days since Cohen’s guilty plea, the president has excoriated his former attorney in a series of tweets, including one where he criticized Cohen for breaking under pressure. In an interview with Fox News that aired Thursday, Trump had harsh words for colleagues who offer information about him in order make deals with prosecutors.
“It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal,” Trump said in the interview, later adding, “It almost ought to be outlawed; it’s not fair.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.
However, there were indications Trump might not have given up on Weisselberg just yet and may be hoping the executive stays loyal. A source close to the Trump family spoke highly of Weisselberg, even after the reports of the immunity deal surfaced on Friday.
“Allen is an amazing person. Truly a class act. I have the highest respect for him,” the source said.
Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, dismissed the deal in a text message to Yahoo News.
“Old news,” wrote Giuliani. “SDNY checking the boxes.”
Giuliani also said he believes Weisselberg “still works” at the Trump Organization.
Weisselberg played a crucial part in the payments Cohen set up to secure the silence of the women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. After Cohen brokered deals with each of the women, Weisselberg arranged for Cohen to be reimbursed from Trump’s own funds. After news of Weisselberg’s immunity deal broke, CNN reported that his interview with federal prosecutors occurred weeks ago and was indeed focused on the payments.
In the case of McDougal, a surreptitious recording Cohen made of Trump features the two men talking about the plan. Cohen notes on the tape that he collaborated with Weisselberg on the project, seeking his input on how best to form a shell company that was used to give a tabloid publisher $150,000 so it could buy the exclusive rights to McDougal’s story while never actually planning to run an article about it.
In the case of Daniels, the plan Cohen admitted in his guilty plea was less intricate. Cohen negotiated a $130,000 payment to Daniels in exchange for her signature on a nondisclosure agreement. Once again, the money came through a shell company, but this time Cohen initially paid out of pocket and went into debt. Weisselberg comes into this story when Cohen sought reimbursement for the $130,000. Cohen created fake invoices to submit to the Trump Organization, and eventually the Trump Organization’s executives, reportedly including Weisselberg, decided to pay Cohen $420,000 spread out over several months in what they would call a “monthly retainer.” The amount was greater than $130,000 to allow Cohen to recoup the hush money expenses, cover his taxes, and to provide him some additional compensation. Weisselberg was in charge of making these “retainer” payments.
Federal and local prosecutors have been cooperating on various Trump probes. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York began its investigation of Cohen based on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign cooperated with those efforts. Mueller is continuing to investigate Cohen’s role in a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
If Weisselberg decided to fully open his kimono and reveal all he knows, the federal investigation in the Southern District of New York would be the most obvious potential beneficiary. However, in some ways, the nature of that office’s interest in Trump is the most mysterious. As of Friday afternoon, it is not known what other subjects that federal investigation is pursuing. If Trump Organization executives, or even the president, are in its cross hairs, then Weisselberg could offer key insights.
Special counsel Mueller’s investigation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is another potential beneficiary. For Mueller’s investigators, Weisselberg could detail the nature and extent of the financing the Trump Organization has received from sources connected to Russia. He could also offer them insight into any investments or potential investments Trump has made either in Russia or with Russian partners. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.
Weisselberg could also potentially be a valuable material witness in the New York attorney general’s state-level investigation into President Trump’s charitable foundation. In June, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation alleging a “pattern of illegal conduct,” including “willful self-dealing.” Weisselberg has long been the treasurer of the Trump Foundation. In preparation for its lawsuit, the attorney general’s office conducted a lengthy interview with Weisselberg and obtained his emails. The investigators allege that Weisselberg collaborated with Trump and campaign officials in advance of the 2016 Iowa primary to use the charity’s funds to benefit the campaign. The New York attorney general’s office declined to comment on Weisselberg.
After Weisselberg’s deal became public on Friday morning, speculation intensified about the information that such a well-placed cooperative witness could provide to investigators looking into Trump’s business and personal affairs. Bloomberg Opinion Executive Editor Tim O’Brien was among the chorus on Twitter.
“Weisselberg’s cooperation takes the Mueller and SDNY investigations out of some of the penny ante stuff in play so far and into the heart of the Trump Organization and President Trump’s business history. The game gets started here,” O’Brien wrote.
With Weisselberg’s deal relatively limited in scope, that game will have to wait — for now.
Updated at 9:32 pm with comments from Rudy Giuliani.
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