“I probably didn’t know at that time that we probably shouldn’t be using foundation funds for this type of thing… we made a mistake,” McConney told an investigator, as quoted by The Daily Beast.
McConney also addressed Trump’s donation to a PAC supporting former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who declined to pursue an investigation into the scandal-ridden and now-defunct Trump University. The donation was not initially reported to the IRS.
“We found out we made the contribution to… a political organization as opposed to a charitable organization,” McConney said, as quoted by The Daily Beast. He added: “Anything and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, with this one request.”
The Trump Foundation settled the civil lawsuit with the New York Attorney General’s office in 2019, paying $2 million in restitution before dissolving. As part of the settlement, Trump and his children Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr., have all been barred from sitting on the board of New York state charities.
ABC News reported that McConney testified for the Manhattan grand jury in June. The grand jury is expected to last through at least November, and is reportedly examining whether employees of the Trump Organization took perks without paying the appropriate taxes on them; whether the company misrepresented property values for favorable tax, loan, and insurance rates; and if it broke state laws by facilitating a hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
A cooperating witness in the Manhattan District Attorney investigation into the Trump Organization told prosecutors that former President Donald Trump personally offered to pay for perks in place of a taxable income, The Daily Beast reported, citing sources who heard the conversation.
The revelation could bolster any charges prosecutors would bring against Trump himself as part of a case that his company and its longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, have already been indicted for.
Manhattan prosecutors are currently investigating whether Trump Organization executives illegally took benefits without paying taxes on them, and whether the company engaged in tax and financial fraud.
Weisselberg was accused of participating in a scheme of corporate gifts in lieu of higher salaries, thereby avoiding paying a chunk of taxes for both the company and its employees, according to a 15-count indictment announced earlier this month.
Two unnamed sources told The Daily Beast that they heard a June 25 interview between investigators and the witness, Jennifer Weisselberg, who is Allen Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, in which she said that Trump personally guaranteed one of those perks. The outlet did not say how the sources were connected to the investigation. Jennifer Weisselberg’s lawyer did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The agreement was made in January 2012 during a meeting at Trump Tower that included Trump, Jennifer Weisselberg, her then-husband Barry, and Allen Weisselberg, The Daily Beast reported. Barry Weisselberg is also a Trump Organization employee.
Jennifer Weisselberg is said to have told prosecutors that Trump said he would pay for her and Barry’s children’s education instead of giving Barry a raise, the report said.
According to The Daily Beast, Jennifer Weisselberg told prosecutors that at one point in the 2012 meeting, Trump turned to her and said: “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.”
Investigators also asked Weisselberg, who is in the middle of ongoing litigation stemming from her 2018 divorce, if Trump was personally involved in the alleged scheme. Weisselberg said he was, sources told The Daily Beast.
Though Trump was not criminally charged, prosecutors referenced him several times in court and in the 25-page indictment. The charging document said that Trump personally signed tuition checks for Allen Weisselberg’s family members.
Specifically, from 2012 to 2017, “Trump Corporation personnel, including Weisselberg, arranged for tuition expenses for Weisselberg’s family members to be paid by personal checks drawn on the account of and signed by Donald J. Trump, and later drawn on the account of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, dated April 7, 2017,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors said that Weisselberg “intentionally” omitted the tuition payments from his personal tax returns even though he knew the payments “represented taxable income and were treated as compensation by the Trump Corporation in internal records.”
Weisselberg and the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Trump slammed the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
This month’s indictment represents the first charges to come out of the Manhattan DA’s three-year investigation into Trump’s business dealings. But prosecutors said the inquiry is still ongoing, and legal experts told Insider that the charges may just be the tip of the iceberg where Trump is concerned.
“It’s not going to be lost on Trump’s lawyers that the government showed with this indictment how quickly they were able to put together what looks like a very solid case, considering how short a time they’ve had Trump and his company’s records,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was on the team that convicted the Gambino crime boss John Gotti.
Investigators could also bring charges against other Trump Organization employees, many of whom prosecutors said received the same type of untaxed benefits Weisselberg did.
“As prosecutors go through this evidence and threaten other company executives, they may not all be guys in their 70s” like Allen Weisselberg, Cotter said. “They might be in the prime of their life and they’re going to think about the fact that they could go to jail for five, six, seven years if they get the wrong judge. Those are the guys that may have more motivation to cooperate.”
Alan Futerfas, the Trump Organization’s lawyer, did not provide a comment to The Daily Beast. Liz Harrington, Trump’s spokesperson, did not immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment.
The Trump Organization submitted a letter dated June 25 to New Jersey liquor regulators announcing his resignation from the subsidiaries, according to the Post. Weisselberg’s attorneys met with prosecutors on June 24 in a failed attempt to persuade them not to charge him, the Post previously reported.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced the indictment on July 1, accusing Weisselberg and the Trump Organization of a wide-ranging and long-running tax fraud scheme. Weisselberg and lawyers for the former president’s company pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Insider first reported last week on filings in the UK showing that Weisselberg quit his role with one of the Trump Organization’s Scottish golf courses.
Prior to the indictments, prosecutors tried without success to “flip” Weisselberg into cooperating with their larger, ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization’s finances.
In addition to the tax charges filed against Weisselberg and the company, Manhattan prosecutors had been reviewing whether the Trump Organization broke financial laws by misrepresenting property values for favorable tax, loan, and insurance rates, or by facilitating a hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels over her claims that she had an affair with ex-President Donald Trump.
Lawyers for Weisselberg and representatives for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
One sentence in the Manhattan District Attorney’s 15-count indictment against the Trump Organization suggests more people affiliated with the ex-president’s family company could face charges in the future, according to a former prosecutor.
Thursday’s indictment alleged the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg participated in a yearslong scheme to avoid paying taxes on $1.7 million worth of compensation. Both Weisselberg and attorneys for the Trump Organization pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Randy Zelin, a former New York state prosecutor, told Insider the charging documents included a sentence that offered a clue about other people who may have been involved in the alleged tax scheme.
“One of the largest individual beneficiaries of the defendants’ scheme was Allen Weisselberg,” the indictment reads.
Zelin, now a defense attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP, said prosecutors’ use of the word “individual” suggests other people – not just corporations – benefited from the Trump Organization’s alleged tax avoidance scheme.
“The government could have said he was the only one, right? The government didn’t have to use the word ‘individual,'” Zelin said. “The fact that the government inserted the word ‘individual’ means that there may be others who enjoy perks.”
“The fact that the government said ‘one of the largest’ – that by its very nature means other people were doing the same or doing similar,” he added.
The indictment describes an ongoing tax avoidance scheme that prosecutors allege began in 2005. Former President Donald Trump personally led the company until 2017, and then turned over leadership to Weisselberg and his two eldest sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who have disparaged the investigation as politically motivated.
Zelin noted that the Trump Organization closed ranks around Weisselberg after he was charged, suggesting the executive wasn’t a rogue actor in the alleged tax avoidance scheme.
“If he had done this on his own, he would have then have been cheating the Trump Organization,” Zelin said. “Not only wasn’t he terminated, not only was he not suspended pending further investigation, not only was he not suspended once he was indicted – but apparently he’s gone back to work since his indictment.”
A grand jury in New York indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, as part of a years-long investigation into tax crimes, The New York Times first reported.
It is the first wave of charges following the Manhattan District Attorney’s office’s three-year investigation into whether former President Donald Trump’s sprawling real-estate company violated state laws and engaged in financial crimes.
The full scope of the charges was not immediately clear. The indictments are expected to be unsealed Thursday after Weisselberg and attorneys representing the Trump Organization appear in court, the Wall Street Journal first reported. A representative for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment.
Nicholas Gravante Jr., an attorney representing both Calamaris, told Insider that he did not expect charges against his clients this week.
“Although the DA’s investigation obviously is ongoing, I do not expect charges to be filed against either of my clients at this time,” he said on Wednesday.
The investigation kicked into high gear in February when the Supreme Court cleared the way for prosecutors to obtain eight years of Trump’s tax returns. Prosecutors homed in on Weisselberg earlier this year and secured the cooperation of his former daughter-in-law, Jennifer.
Duncan Levin, Jennifer Weisselberg’s attorney in the case, said his client provided a “mountain” of evidence to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
“We are very gratified to hear the reporting that the DA’s office is considering bringing criminal charges,” Levin said. “We had been working with them and other investigators since late last year and have provided investigators with a mountain of evidence about not only fringe benefits but also other potential tax issues.”
Barbara Res, a former executive at the company, told Insider that Barry Weisselberg’s position at the company could be part of the reason his father hasn’t flipped against Trump.
Weisselberg may still flip down the line
Manhattan prosecutors started investigating the Trump Organization after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer, accused the company of facilitating a hush-money payment to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges that she had an affair with Trump in the mid-2000s.
Cohen testified to Congress that he and Weisselberg had helped coordinate the payment with Trump’s knowledge. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to several felony counts of campaign-finance violations, tax evasion, and wire fraud in connection with the payment.
The inquiry later ballooned to examine whether Trump’s real-estate business manipulated its property values for loan and tax purposes and whether it violated banking and insurance laws.
Trump himself has dismissed the investigation as politically motivated.
Prosecutors “just said, ‘When this indictment comes down, he won’t be charged,'” Fischetti told Politico. He added that the DA’s office said its investigation was “ongoing,” meaning the former president may not be out of hot water just yet.
Legal experts say that even if key figures like Weisselberg haven’t struck cooperation deals, it doesn’t mean they won’t flip down the line and turn in a bigger fish. Fischetti acknowledged that investigators wanted to use other witnesses to get evidence against Trump.
“They could not get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate and tell them what they wanted to hear, and that’s why they are going forward with these charges,” he told NBC News last week. “They could not get him to cooperate because he would not say that Donald Trump had knowledge or any information that he may have been not deducting properly the use of cars or an apartment.”
“The district attorney’s office is looking to take all the oxygen out of the room,” Randy Zelin, a defense attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP and former New York state prosecutor, told Insider. “And make those people who really don’t want to go to jail little choice but to turn around and cooperate.”
The district attorney’s office has not accused anyone of wrongdoing at this point, but it has empaneled a special grand jury to weigh indictments in the case. Prosecutors may bring charges against Trump personally, the Trump Organization as a company, specific executives, or it may not bring charges at all.
A representative for the Manhattan DA declined to comment. Through a representative, Fischetti declined Insider’s request for comment.
In a Friday interview with NBC News, Fischetti said prosecutors want to use other witnesses to testify against Trump.
“They could not get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate and tell them what they wanted to hear, and that’s why they are going forward with these charges,” Fischetti told NBC News. “They could not get him to cooperate because he would not say that Donald Trump had knowledge or any information that he may have been not deducting properly the use of cars or an apartment.”
Charges against Trump’s executives, or his company, would help prosecutors make that case.
Trump’s lawyer didn’t rule out charges against him down the line
The investigation was sparked by testimony from Michael Cohen, the former Trump Organization executive who said the company illegally facilitated hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors also reportedly have been examining whether the company or its executives broke laws by taking benefits like rent-free apartments, cars, and tuition payments from the company without paying the appropriate taxes.
Fischetti told Politico that prosecutors informed him the Trump Organization would not be charged for crimes related to property value manipulation or hush-money payments – but they did not mention the tax-free benefits.
He also did not mention the potential charges against Weisselberg. If prosecutors bring charges against Trump’s money man, they may have a better chance of flipping him.
They have already gone to great lengths subpoenaing Weisselberg’s personal finances and even his grandchildren’s school, where his ex-daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, said he arranged for tuition payments. But the Trump loyalist still appears to resist agreeing to be a witness.
“Once they’re no longer bluffing and you’ve been charged, you’ll see how quickly people who thought they could play games, and thought they could play poker with the district attorney’s office, are now beating down the district attorney’s office door to cooperate,” Zelin told Insider.
If he ultimately agreed to cooperate, Weisselberg would be a star witness in the case.
Thanks to two wins at the Supreme Court, prosecutors already have reams of tax and other financial documents from the Trump Organization. But Weisselberg would be invaluable in presenting those documents to jurors and illustrating whether the company manipulated financial documents – and whether Trump played a role.
“It’s a very different thing than just doing a favor for Trump or engendering his admiration,” Res said. “Now you’re asking people to take their loyalty to Trump, and keep it, even though they may have to go to jail for it.”
Barbara Res, a former executive vice president at the Trump Organization, told Insider she believes Allen Weisselberg and Matthew Calamari wouldn’t be able to stomach prison time, nor risk criminal charges against their sons – both of whom are employed at the company.
“If you introduce the notion of criminal charges against any one of them, or their children, you change the game completely,” she said.
Res noted she doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of the Manhattan District Attorney’s or New York Attorney General’s investigation, and hasn’t been contacted by prosecutors from either office.
For two years, investigators have examined whether the Trump Organization or its executives committed tax, bank, or insurance fraud. The Manhattan DA’s office gave the company a Monday afternoon deadline to complete its arguments against being charged, according to the Washington Post.
Prosecutors also told Calamari, the Trump Organization’s chief operating officer, to hire an attorney, according to the Wall Street Journal. They’ve asked about the possibility that Calamari skirted taxes on company perks, the Journal reported.
The former executive said Weisselberg and Calamari can’t stomach prison time
She told Insider that Weisselberg and Calamari, both colleagues during her years at the company, have been loyal to Trump. But she thinks neither could stomach prison time.
“It’s a very different thing than just doing a favor for Trump or engendering his admiration,” she said. “Now you’re asking people to take their loyalty to Trump, and keep it, even though they may have to go to jail for it – or worse, their child may have to go to jail.”
“I don’t know that either Calamari or Weisselberg can do that,” she added.
Ronald Fischetti, an attorney representing the Trump Organization, told NBC News on Friday that Allen Weisselberg was not cooperating with prosecutors, who wanted him to implicate Trump in wrongdoing.
“They could not get him to cooperate because he would not say that Donald Trump had knowledge or any information that he may have been not deducting properly the use of cars or an apartment,” he said.
Jennifer Weisselberg previously told Insider she expected her former father-in-law to cooperate. She said that Allen Weisselberg holds Trump in high esteem, but would do anything to protect his son.
Manhattan prosecutors have empaneled a special grand jury that may bring charges against the Trump Organization, particular executives, or Trump himself. They have not made any accusations of wrongdoing at this point, and it’s possible no charges will be brought.
Trump himself has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has described the investigations into his conduct as politically motivated.
Top Trump Organization brass aren’t ‘evil’ like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, the former executive said
Res drew a distinction between Weisselberg and Calamari, and Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, both Trump loyalists.
Manafort, a longtime Republican operative who led Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was convicted of numerous crimes including fraud and witness tampering. Stone, another longtime Republican operative who worked for Trump, was convicted of lying to the FBI and witness tampering.
Res said she believes Manafort and Stone refused to cooperate with prosecutors because they knew Trump would pardon them. Trump pardoned Manafort and commuted Stone’s prison sentence shortly before the end of his presidential term.
Weisselberg and Calamari, she pointed out, have no shot at a pardon: They’re being investigated under state law in New York, where the governor is a Democrat.
“There is no pardon,” Res said. “There’s no get out of jail free card. It’s different.”
Res, who’s known Calamari and Weisselberg for decades, said neither of them had the inherent darkness of the Trump loyalists who were convicted.
“Manafort and Stone – Those guys are animals. They have evil hearts,” she said. “I knew Matt very well, and I know Allen pretty well. I don’t see them as having evil hearts like Trump and Manafort and Roger Stone.”
Neither Weisselberg nor Calamari have made public statements or been photographed much since Trump took office. Res said she believes the two executives are likely uncomfortable with the attention around the investigation.
Now, reporters are looking into Weisselberg’s and Calamari’s personal lives, apartments, and grandchildren’s schools.
“We hardly heard their names for four years when Trump was president,” Res said. “Now all of a sudden they’re in every paper.”
Lawyers for the Trump Organization have until Monday to convince prosecutors not to file criminal charges against it, sources told The Washington Post.
The Monday deadline comes days after The New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office told lawyers for former President Donald Trump that his company could face criminal charges.
Trump’s lawyers met with Manhattan prosecutors Thursday to try and persuade them not to bring the charges. According to The Post, meetings like this are common in financial investigations and allow defense attorneys to present evidence before a decision is made on bringing charges.
Ron Fischetti, a lawyer for Trump, confirmed the meeting to NBC News, saying it “looks like they are going to come down with charges against the company, and that is completely outrageous.”
“The corporate office will plead not guilty and we will make an immediate motion to dismiss the case against the corporation,” Fischetti said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James have spent more than two years looking into Trump’s company. Investigations have examined the Trump Organization’s financial dealings, including whether the company had manipulated the value of its assets for tax and loan advantages.
Prosecutors have also questioned witnesses about perks received by company leadership, possibly inquiring about whether the proper taxes were paid on them.
It’s not clear if prosecutors will bring charges against the Trump Organization, Trump himself, CFO Allen Weisselberg, or other executives.
Vance’s office convened a “special grand jury” last month to hear from witnesses, Insider’s Jacob Shamsian reported. Jurors will decide whether to bring criminal charges against Trump, the Trump Organization, or other executives.
Complications from that arrangement arose in recent weeks, as court records show her landlord is trying to evict her – a measure she claims is retaliation for her cooperation with prosecutors.
Allen Weisselberg’s arrangement has allowed her to live in an apartment building managed by one of his friends in the real estate business, she said. The friend, real estate mogul Lawrence Gluck, permitted her to live in the unit without requiring her or Allen Weisselberg to show any proof of income, she said.
Rental agreements typically require tenants and guarantors to show pay stubs or tax forms demonstrating income of at least 40 times the monthly rent amount. Jennifer Weisselberg said the arrangement allowed Allen Weisselberg to avoid showing pay stubs from the Trump Organization.
She also said she preferred to live in a different apartment building, but Allen Weisselberg forced her to live in that location because of Gluck’s closeness to himself and to now-former president Donald Trump.
“I found several other apartments,” Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider. “And he said, ‘No, you’re going to have to move. I called Larry Gluck, and because Donald and Larry and I have a long history of doing real estate together for decades. He’s going to allow me to be the guarantor without having to show any actual financial documents.'”
Allen Weisselberg took the measures to ensure no one would see Trump Organization payroll documents, she said.
An attorney for Allen Weisselberg declined to comment.
It’s “highly unusual” for a landlord to agree not to scrutinize a tenant and guarantor’s income to rent out an apartment, according to Samuel Himmelstein, a New York City-based tenant’s rights lawyer.
“I’ve never seen a situation where the landlord didn’t scrutinize the income of the guarantor in that situation,” Himmelstein said. “Because then he’d potentially have two people who weren’t able to cover the rent.”
The Trump Organization CFO was worried about federal prosecutors, according to Jennifer Weisselberg
Allen Weisselberg was worried about becoming ensnared in the investigation himself, his former daughter-in-law said.
“It’s because he didn’t want to share financials during the SDNY investigation,” Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider. “He doesn’t want them out there.”
In sentencing memos filed that December, federal prosecutors made clear that Cohen acted at Trump’s direction. As president of the United States, Trump was immune from federal prosecution at the time. Since Trump left office in February of this year, neither federal prosecutors in Manhattan or any other division of the Justice Department have given any public indication that they seek to charge him in the case, as Insider’s C. Ryan Barber and Warren Rojas previously reported.
Allen Weisselberg has worked with the Trump family for more than 40 years, overseeing their personal finances in addition to his role as the Trump Organization’s CFO. Prosecutors have been seeking his cooperation to help guide them through the possibly hundreds of thousands of pages of financial documents they already subpoenaed from the company.
Jennifer Weisselberg has been cooperating with investigators from both offices since last fall. She’s given interviews with investigators several times, she said, and handed over “several boxes of documents” stemming from her divorce, which include financial documents related to the Trump Organization. She told Insider that prosecutors have asked her about how the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg operate, and have pressured family members in order to get Weisselberg to “flip.”
It’s not clear whether Allen Weisselberg has already agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and whether he has been asked to testify in front of the grand jury. Prosecutors typically strive to secure a cooperation agreement with witnesses before calling them before a grand jury, so that the witnesses don’t receive immunity for their testimony.
Jennifer Weisselberg says her former father-in-law is behind an effort to evict her
The legal complications stemming from Jennifer and Allen Weisselberg’s unusual rent agreement have reached a new phase in recent weeks.
In early 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic struck, Jennifer Weisselberg said she lost her job managing musical theater acts and fell behind on rent payments for the apartment.
In November, Columbus Manor LLC, the entity that owns the Upper West Side apartment building, sued Jennifer and Allen Weisselberg and alleged they owed $54,450 in unpaid rent that had accrued since February 2020. The company is owned by Stellar Management, which is run by Lawrence Gluck.
Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider that in April, her building manager told her that her back pay was “made whole.” She said the manager, Trevor Matwey, said the back pay was made by a law firm directly through Stellar Management and he could not produce a receipt for her. She told Insider that she believed Allen Weisselberg made the payment.
“They won’t show me proof that it’s been paid,” Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider. “Trevor Matwey in the management office said, ‘Jenn, you’re good to go. All of the back pay has been worked out. You’re good. You don’t owe anything.'”
After the lawsuit was withdrawn and believing her rent had been paid, she said she signed papers to renew her lease for May. But on May 18, Columbus Manor LLC filed a new lawsuit, naming only Jennifer Weisselberg as the defendant. The new lawsuit claimed that her lease expired on April 30, that “no renewal is required” for the lease, and that she should be evicted.
Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider that, because she believes the rent has been made whole, she should not be evicted from her apartment. She believes Allen Weisselberg is behind the eviction lawsuit from Stellar Management because she has cooperated with the investigations into the Trump Organization and spoken to the media about it.
The new lawsuit says that Jennifer Weisselberg should further owe the real estate company the agreed-upon $6,050 monthly rent for the apartment until she leaves the premises. It does not mention the $54,450 the company previously said she owed.
Columbia Manor LLC is seeking to evict Jennifer Weisselberg through an ejection order in New York state court. Himmelstein told Insider that landlords rarely file for eviction through that mechanism without also seeking back rent.
“Typically, the landlords seek possession of the apartment and they also seek the back rent,” Himmelstein said. “So is it unusual that they didn’t also sue for the back rent? Yes, that’s unusual.”
A representative for Gluck and Stellar Management said they would not comment on an individual tenant’s financial situation. Kevin Cullen, the attorney leading the eviction litigation against Jennifer Weisselberg, declined to comment. Matwey didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Jennifer Weisselberg told Insider that she expects to be able to remain in her apartment for now because of New York state’s eviction moratorium, which runs through September. She expects she’ll owe thousands of dollars more in legal fees to fight the lawsuit.
She said she has already liquidated part of her 401(k) to pay for ongoing civil litigation with her ex-husband over matrimonial disputes, which she believes Allen Weisselberg controls and finances. The attorney representing Barry Weisselberg in the case didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Jennifer Weisselberg said that the eviction is yet another way her former father-in-law has exerted control over her – and Barry’s – lives. In earlier interviews with Insider, she described how the Trump Organization arranged for the couple to receive perks like apartments and tuition payments in lieu of a regular salary to avoid taxes and influence their decisions.
“It’s so controlling,” she told Insider in March. “Because if you want to leave and make the same money – you live there. If you want to leave, where are you going to live?”
The grand jury is “special” in two ways. It’ll be convened for six months, rather than one month, which is standard. It also could be asked to do something no one has ever done before: indict a former president.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into Donald Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s finances appears to have reached an advanced stage. Prosecutors are expected to announce whether they’re bringing any criminal charges before the end of the year, and the special grand jury – a group of 23 ordinary citizens – will be the ones to make the final call.
Here’s how the process works.
What does a special grand jury do?
The precise rules for grand juries and criminal charges vary by state. Under New York law, which governs the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, a felony charge – a criminal charge that would result in a year or more in prison – may go to trial only if a grand jury decides to file an indictment.
A grand jury in New York consists of 23 people. Sixteen jurors must be present in order to make charging decisions, and 12 must vote in favor of bringing an indictment. They must meet in secret and are not permitted to discuss the case with anyone outside the jury. Grand juries can also issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to testify.
Most grand juries meet for one month and hear multiple cases. According to The Washington Post, the Manhattan DA has empaneled a “special” grand jury that will last up to six months in order to hear evidence from the Trump investigation and decide whether to bring an indictment.
Special grand juries are typically empaneled to review evidence for more sophisticated cases like Trump’s, which spanned two years and involves possibly millions of pages of documents. Court documents suggest that the office of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has been investigating whether the Trump Organization, its executives, or Donald Trump himself broke tax laws by keeping two sets of books. One set would have shown assets of little value, in order to pay little in taxes; another would have shown significant profits in order to receive favorable loan and insurance rates. Legal experts expect Vance to make a case for tax, bank, and insurance fraud charges.
Grand juries are meant to function as a check on government power. Prosecutors need to convince a majority of jurors that there’s probable cause to charge someone with a crime; only then can a case go to trial.
“The grand jury was designed to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, government, before you just start taking anybody you feel like to trial and convicting them and tossing them into jail or cutting their heads off, we’re going to make you present evidence first and satisfy a group of people to show that we have a case,'” said Randy Zelin, an attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP and former prosecutor.
But in reality, defense lawyers like Zelin say, grand juries almost always agree with prosecutors.
In a trial, a judge oversees the process, defense lawyers can put up a defense or call their own witnesses, and prosecutors must overcome the challenge of getting a jury to reach a unanimous verdict.
But prosecutors determine which witnesses to bring and what evidence to show a grand jury – and the verdict doesn’t need to be unanimous.
What evidence will jurors review?
Earlier this year, Vance’s office won what’s likely the biggest prize in their investigation. After two Supreme Court decisions, the district attorney’s office was finally able to obtain the Trump Organization’s tax documents in February.
Those documents include Trump’s tax returns, which he has fought vociferously to keep from the public and which he has repeatedly lied about. Legal experts say the documents also likely include email communications between Trump Organization officials, insurance brokers, third-party accountants, and banks about what would go into those tax returns. If the communications show that Trump Organization officials sought to distort the true value of the company’s properties, that could amount to tax and wire fraud, according to the legal experts.
Prosecutors have been examining that documentation for months. Now, they will present those documents as exhibits before the grand jury.
Aside from the subpoenaed tax documents, prosecutors may present jurors with financial documents provided by cooperating witnesses.
Barry Weisselberg is also a key Trump Organization employee, as the manager of the cash-only Wollman rink in Central Park. Prosecutors may also be examining documentation about the rink’s operations for potential tax fraud, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The financial documents investigators gathered may be complex and difficult for a grand jury to comprehend. That poses a challenge for Vance’s office. Under New York state law, prosecutors can’t present “hearsay evidence,” or prosecutors’ personal summaries of the evidence, to grand juries. Instead, prosecutors must provide the underlying documentation directly to the jurors.
Prosecutors can also get third parties to present evidence, including charts and summaries, for them. Vance’s office is working with FTI Consulting, a forensic accounting firm, to analyze Trump’s documents, and those accountants may present their analysis to a grand jury.
“There could be summary charts or analyses that are put together by the person who has done that analysis to help the grand jury understand the documents,” said Rebecca Ricigliano, a former first assistant attorney general for the state of New Jersey and longtime federal prosecutor in Manhattan. “You see that all the time in regular trials where there’s complicated financials or complicated issues concerning voluminous documents.”
What witnesses will jurors hear from?
The person or entities under investigation don’t have any say in who’s called as a witness before a grand jury. It’s up to prosecutors to decide who testifies.
By default, anyone who gets called as a witness in front of a grand jury in New York gets “transactional immunity,” meaning they get total immunity from prosecution for any possible crimes related to their testimony. Transactional immunity protects people from being subpoenaed and forced to incriminate themselves.
It also means prosecutors need to secure cooperating witnesses before going to a grand jury. The names of some of those witnesses in the DA’s investigation are already public.
Michael Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive and personal lawyer for the ex-president, told Insider he’s spoken to prosecutors more than a dozen times. Jennifer Weisselberg has helped prosecutors understand the company’s inner workings, which she’s described as corrupt. Both will likely serve as grand jury witnesses, and both declined Insider’s request to discuss their possible role, saying they don’t want to jeopardize the legal process.
It’s unclear whether prosecutors have secured cooperation from Allen Weisselberg, who is widely viewed as a potential key witness for the case. He’s worked for the Trumps for more than four decades, and knows the company’s as well as the family’s finances inside and out. Prosecutors reportedly want him to testify about those finances.
But prosecutors wouldn’t want to just call Weisselberg as a grand jury witness, which would give him immunity from prosecution for any financial crimes he may have committed in his role as CFO.
Ricigliano noted that people shouldn’t assume Weisselberg will make or break the DA’s case.
“It’s hard to judge whether he’s really a make-or-break figure, or if they have been able to compile the evidence they need from multiple other sources,” Ricigliano, now an attorney at Crowell & Moring, told Insider. “You can build a case like building a house. You can either get a crane to drop down a prefab house, or you can build it brick by brick.”
Does Trump himself play any role?
If Trump himself is a subject of the DA’s probe, he wouldn’t be called as a grand jury witness. If prosecutors want to charge him, giving him transactional immunity would defeat the purpose of their investigation.
Still, if a lawyer knows their client is a subject of a probe, they can serve a “grand jury notice” to the district attorney’s office, Zelin told Insider.
If that notice is served, prosecutors may be forced to inform the special grand jury that a particular witness named by the defense attorney is willing to testify. The jurors may then decide to subpoena the witness, giving that person transactional immunity against the prosecutors’ wishes.
“It’s sometimes a sophisticated and savvy move on a defense attorney’s part,” Zelin said.
To head off that scenario, prosecutors will try to make a deal with potential witnesses – called a cooperation or plea agreement – where they’d testify in front of a grand jury and agree to waive transactional immunity.
“Prosecutors are very strategic in thinking through their presentation of evidence to ensure that they are not immunizing a witness who they shouldn’t be immunizing,” Ricigliano said.
What charging decisions can the special grand jury make?
It’s not clear whether Vance will seek to charge Trump, Trump Organization executives, the company – or not bring charges at all.
Former New York Supreme Court chief judge Sol Wachtler said a grand jury would “indict a ham sandwich” if a prosecutor told them to because of the amount of control they have over the process. Zelin said because of that dynamic, grand juries can offer prosecutors political cover.
If prosecutors don’t want to pursue a politically inconvenient case, they can blame the grand jury for not bringing an indictment.
But grand juries can also offer protection: Trump has already attempted to tarnish Vance’s investigation by describing it as politically motivated. If a grand jury brings an indictment against Trump, Vance could persuasively say that fellow citizens, not just his office, believe the former president may have committed a crime.
Any charging decisions in this case will be controversial. Democrats sore over Trump’s apparent ability to wriggle out of every scandal will be further rattled if he isn’t personally charged. Trump supporters may be scandalized if he’s held responsible for financial wrongdoing that may have been engineered by other executives like Weisselberg.
Daniel R. Alonso, a former top Vance deputy, previously told Insider there’s a good chance the DA may ask the grand jury to bring charges against only the Trump Organization.
Charging the Trump Organization alone would be a smart strategic move that would further puncture Trump’s image as a successful businessman, possibly cut into his family’s reputation, and provoke less backlash from the 74 million people who voted for him, Zelin said.
“An argument could be made that it’s more devastating,” Zelin said. “If you kill the Trump Organization, basically you kill the Trump family’s means and a rather extravagant high-profile and lavish lifestyle.”
Ricigliano told Insider that prosecutors don’t typically think about political considerations when they bring cases in front of a grand jury.
She emphasized that prosecutors in Vance’s office – as well as prosecutors with New York Attorney General Letitia James’ parallel investigation – gathered massive amounts of information over the course of their two-year probe, and the public only is aware of a small fraction of it.
Those prosecutors will ultimately bring the best case they have based on the evidence, she said.
“I don’t think that prosecutors view the grand juries as potential scapegoats or ways to alleviate pressure,” Ricigliano said. “It’s part of the system that’s been part of the country since the dawn of the revolution.”