Longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed, the Wall Street Journal reports. That should come as little surprise; he was invoked twice in Michael Cohen’s taped conversation with President Trump about buying the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story.
“I’ve spoken to Allen about how to set the whole thing up …” Cohen says on the September 2016 recording. He adds: “I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing …”
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a potentially huge moment. More than anything — more than whether Trump actually proposed paying cash for McDougal’s story or warned against it — this could be what matters on that tape.
Bloomberg’s Timothy O’Brien spotlighted the potential significance of Weisselberg’s implication in the whole thing shortly after the Cohen-Trump tape came out Tuesday evening. Cohen, O’Brien has argued previously, is actually a small fish in Trumpworld; Weisselberg, by contrast, is deeply involved in Trump’s business and finances:
Weisselberg . . . has worked for the Trump family since the 1970s, and knows more about the Trump Organization’s history and finances than nearly anyone. Almost 71 years old, he joined the company after graduating from college and worked for the president’s father, Fred, as an accountant. He has since become the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer and one of the president’s closest business confidants (alongside Jason Greenblatt, who was Trump’s in-house legal counsel before the president named him as a special diplomatic envoy to the Middle East).
. . .
Over the years, Weisselberg’s professional duties also came to include handling Trump’s personal finances as well as the Trump Organization’s corporate finances. He has paid household bills, made large purchases for Trump, and has communicated with Trump’s outside investment advisers. After Trump became president his lawyers created a trust that safeguards his interest in the Trump Organization while ostensibly managing the company without his input. The trust is run by Weisselberg and the president’s two eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
In other words, Weisselberg has served as something of a jack-of-all-trades for Trump. He worked for the Trump Organization and the Donald J. Trump Foundation, yes, but he also handled personal stuff — up to and including tax returns . . . and apparently consulting with Cohen on how to handle paying for the rights to a story about an alleged Trump affair with a Playboy Playmate, just two months before the 2016 election.
Weisselberg has now been tied to both the potential McDougal payment (Cohen never ultimately purchased the rights from the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc.) and to the payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who has also claimed an affair with Trump, in which he set up Cohen’s reimbursements from Trump. That speaks to his deep involvement in All Things Trump and to the information he could provide investigators under the right circumstances.
Whether Weisselberg actually knew the specific details of either arrangement isn’t clear. We also don’t even know if there was anything illegal about the whole thing — much less if Weisselberg would have been involved in any illegality. So the idea that Weisselberg might flip on Trump is premature, at best.
But the fact that there was reason to subpoena him is big. That means he has to answer investigators’ questions, save for ones where he might invoke the Fifth Amendment or attorney-client privilege. It also means the probe has clearly expanded into Trump’s business, which constituted Trump’s previously expressed red line.
“The subpoena is significant because it indicates that the probe encompasses the welter of transactions done under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, with possible criminal liability for the organization itself,” said former Justice Department official Harry Litman. “Moreover, it means investigation into possible abuse of the organizational structure to serve Trump’s personal purposes.
If he was truly the guy people like Cohen sought to execute shady dealings like setting up companies for payments to cover up affairs, just think of what he might know. You can be Trump is.