How Trump does business: What the Weisselberg trial has revealed about the Trump Organization

Whether the Trump Organization is guilty of criminal fraud will be for a jury to determine. Already, its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has pleaded guilty to 15 felonies. The question in a Manhattan courtroom is to what extent culpability extends to the company for which he worked (and is still on payroll, collecting $640,000 in salary and half-million in annual bonuses).

We won’t render legal judgment independent of those who’ve scrutinized all the testimony and heard the judge’s instructions. We will point out unassailable facts that the trial has entered into the record over eight days of testimony.

Under oath, Weisselberg says he conspired with his subordinate Jeffrey McConney to hide nearly $2 million in taxable income over the course of more than a decade. McConney says they got Michael Calamari, another executive, to doctor payroll records so that many thousands of dollars in rent on apartments, luxury cars, private school tuition for grandkids and more wasn’t counted as payroll. This included faking W-2 forms.

This didn’t just cheat fellow taxpayers by failing to pony up what was owed. It helped the company by keeping down on-paper employee compensation, and therefore tax obligations.

Trump Org.’s defense is that Weisselberg and the other two were acting without higher-ups’ knowledge and only on their own behalf. It’s an interesting notion, but it’s a bit hard to understand how the CFO and two fellow executives who had an elaborate scheme to cheat taxpayers could really be considered a few bad apples.

Indeed, the company’s accountant, Mazars, cut ties with Trump in February after Attorney General Tish James revealed in blistering court documents that the company regularly misstated the value of its assets.

Big Donald himself, of course, blames anyone and everyone but himself. So it goes in his world, where he is personally responsible for every perceived success and never on the hook for a single failure. Somewhere on a desk in Mar-a-Lago, there’s a plaque that says “The buck stops with the fall guy.”