Federal prosecutors want to question Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg as part of the investigation into Michael Cohen.
Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization finance chief, was name-dropped on the September 2016 secretly recorded tape in which Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, discusses a payoff to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. At one hard-to-decipher point in the tape, Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he’s “spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …”
Weisselberg’s name appearing hints at the possibility that the Trump Organization was directly involved in the discussions to pay the National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. (AMI). In August 2016, AMI paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007 — to get the rights to her story and prevent it from going public. (AMI’s chief, David Pecker, is a friend of Trump’s.) Cohen and Trump appear to be discussing the use of a shell company to buy the rights to the story from AMI.
Now, it turns out, federal prosecutors have some questions for Weisselberg. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael Rothfeld, and Alexandra Berzon reported Thursday that Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, likely appearing as a witness in the Manhattan US attorney’s office investigation into Cohen.
“Allen knows where all the financial bodies are buried”
Weisselberg’s subpoena is potentially a big deal. He’s worked for the Trump Organization for decades, and before joining the company, he worked for Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump. When Trump became president, he handed over the day-to-day control of the business to his two elder sons and to Weisselberg.
Weisselberg was also listed as the treasurer for the Trump Foundation, which was recently sued by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which accused the group of violating state and federal laws. Weisselberg reportedly also did Trump’s personal tax returns for at least some years.
Which means if there’s something sketchy in Trump’s finances, or the finances of the Trump Organization, Weisselberg likely knows about. As Timothy L. O’Brien, author of TrumpNation, wrote in Bloomberg:
Weisselberg isn’t a bit player in Trumplandia and his emergence on the Cohen-Trump recording — as someone possibly facilitating a scheme apparently meant to disguise a payoff — should worry the president. Weisselberg has detailed information about the Trump Organization’s operations, business deals and finances. If he winds up in investigators’ crosshairs for secreting payoffs, he could potentially provide much more damaging information to prosecutors than Cohen ever could about the president’s dealmaking.
A former Trump Organization employee told NBC reporter Katy Tur that “Alan [sic] knows where all financial bodies are buried within the Trump organization. He knows Trump’s net worth. He knows any and every expenditure out of Trump Org was approved by Alan [sic].”
Weisselberg had previously been linked to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006. According to the New York Times, he had set up the $35,000 retainer that Cohen received from Trump’s personal trust, which was a repayment for the $130,000 Cohen arranged for Daniels ahead of the November 2016 election to keep her quiet about the affair. It’s unclear if Weisselberg knew the purpose of the retainer was reimbursement for the Daniels payoff.
Now Weisselberg’s name has popped up in connection with the payoff to McDougal.
The Southern District of New York has been investigating Cohen for months, following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. The probe appears to include possible legal violations related to these payoffs to Daniels and McDougal. The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel, and office on April 9, seizing reams of documents and other materials, including the Trump-Cohen recording that aired this week.
That recording, which was provided to CNN by Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, was seen as another sign that Cohen might be prepared to flip and spill to prosecutors about Trump. But he’s clearly not the only one who might know some of the president’s secrets.
Author: Jen Kirby