Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has long been the white whale of Trump watchers. The 73-year-old accountant got his start in the ’70s doing the books for the former president’s father Fred Trump and he’s been with the company ever since, running day-to-day operations with Don Jr. and Eric when their father went to the White House in 2017. And now, according to the New York Times, prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office have zeroed in on him in their investigation of Donald Trump’s finances.
As the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson wrote in a 2018 article on Weisselberg, if there are bodies to be found in Trumpland, he’s the guy who knows where they’re buried. So Weisselberg’s limited immunity agreement in 2018 to testify to the Southern District of New York about the circumstances of the Stormy Daniels hush money payoff touched off a storm of speculation that Trump was in trouble for real this time, which… well, clearly not.
But Weisselberg’s testimony to former New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood about self-dealing at the Trump “charity” got the family foundation disbanded, while Trump and his kids had to kick up $2 million and go to remedial education to learn to differentiate between legitimate philanthropic endeavors and using charitable funds to buy a painting of Trump to hang in their private club.
Weisselberg is currently dancing that same dance with Underwood’s replacement Letitia James, who is looking into a whole raft of allegations about Trump’s financials. We’re not getting a lot of visibility into this ongoing investigation, but this passage from an August 2020 motion to enforce a subpoena shows the bind Weisselberg is in. The NYAG wants to know if the Trump Organization picked up $100 million of loan forgiveness as income in 2012, and the company wants to have Weisselberg pinky swear that they they did rather than produce a tax return to prove it.
In the course of its investigation, OAG has sought merely to confirm that the amounts forgiven by Fortress were ultimately recognized as income (or an explanation as to why the Trump Organization was not required to do so). First Aff. ¶ 84. OAG raised this issue with the Trump Organization on or about April 7, 2020, and after subsequent discussions, the Trump Organization represented that its Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg, would testify as to those relevant matters. Id. ¶¶ 85-86. Mr. Weisselberg did not, however, have personal knowledge and the Trump Organization subsequently refused to produce documents to confirm these basic facts. Id. ¶¶ 87-93.
Clearly there are limits to what Weisselberg is willing to do for his boss. And according to the Times, Vance has been asking questions about the accountant’s sons Barry Weisselberg, who manages the Wolman Ice Rink for the Trump Organization, and Jack Weisselberg, who works for Ladder Capital, one of Donald Trump’s major lenders. As previously reported by Bloomberg, Barry Weisselberg enjoyed multiple expensive perks courtesy of the Trump family, including free rent, which might well have income tax consequences if improperly declared. So, clearly Vance has some potential leverage over Weisselberg should he choose to exert it.
According to the Times, the Manhattan prosecutor is focused on some of the same real estate deals that the NYAG is investigating, particularly whether the Trump Organization falsified loan applications with inflated appraisals, and whether the company properly accounted for the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.
Remember that Trump’s own lawyer Rudy Giuliani already went on television and said that the company reimbursed Michael Cohen the $130,000 he fronted for the payoff by “putting him on retainer,” a practice which he described as standard operating procedure for lawyers.
“When I heard Cohen’s retainer of $35K when he was doing no work for the president, I said that’s how he’s repaying it,” Giuliani told Sean Hannity. “With a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes.”
This was approximately ten minutes before Greenberg Traurig told Giuliani to clean out his office. Probably a coincidence! (Also, memories of a bygone era when the only thing leaking on Rudy’s head was his mouth.)
So will Cyrus Vance get Weisselberg to give up the goods? Who knows! But maybe he’ll get lucky and Rudy will testify to Laura Ingraham and tell us all what happened.
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.