Michael Cohen has sued the US government for $20 million in damages, accusing Donald Trump’s administration of sending him back to prison for writing a critical book about the former president.
Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2018 after he was convicted of a string of crimes, including lying to Congress.
Following an outbreak of COVID-19 at Cohen’s prison in upstate New York, Cohen was released on furlough in May 2020 and permitted to spend the remainder of his sentence under home confinement in Manhattan.
However, during negotiations about the conditions of his confinement in July, Cohen was returned to prison after refusing to agree to the terms of his imprisonment.
Cohen had refused sign an agreement forbidding him from working on his book about Trump, Lanny Davis, a Cohen associate, told Mother Jones.
In the complaint, Cohen said he had endured “emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of freedom” after being returned to prison, NBC News reported.
Cohen says government officials conducted “false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, wrongful confinement, and retaliation” against Cohen, according to the outlet.
Cohen’s attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said in a statement carried by NBC News: “Mr. Cohen was the personal attorney to the President of the US and if he could be thrown in jail for desiring to write a critical book of the President one’s imagination need not go far before realizing that such unacceptable and constitutionally violated conduct could be directed at any of us.”
“That is not hyperbole and not acceptable.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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.”
Prosecutors on Thursday requested that the former judge Barbara Jones be appointed special master in the government’s case against former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is Donald Trump’s former lawyer.
A special master is someone – typically a retired judge – who reviews documents and records seized in the raid of an attorney’s home or office and filters out materials that may be covered under attorney-client privilege.
Jones previously served as the US District Judge for the Southern District of New York and now works at the law firm Bracewell LLP, where Giuliani also used to be a partner, though their time did not overlap. She made headlines in 2018, when SDNY prosecutors requested that she be appointed special master in their case against another ex-Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In their filing Thursday, prosecutors noted that Jones “‘efficiently and meticulously reviewed’ tens of thousands of items over a period of four months and made privilege designations that were not objected to by the parties” in the Cohen case.
US District Judge Kimba Wood, who oversaw the case against Cohen, said at the end of the proceedings that Jones “‘performed her review with extraordinary efficiency and speed, while giving the parties a full opportunity to be heard,’ and she and her law firm showed ‘professionalism and careful attention to detail,'” the filing said.
Prosecutors noted that Giuliani and his law associate Victoria Toensing, both of whom had their property raided in April as part of a wide-ranging investigation into whether the former broke foreign lobbying laws, agreed to the appointment of Jones as special master. They also said they had spoken to Jones about the matter and she said she was available to serve as special master.
Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer said Wednesday that he believes the former president will “flip” on everyone, including his own family members, as New York investigators tighten the screws on the Trump Organization.
Michael Cohen’s comments came after a spokesperson for New York attorney general Tish James said in a statement that James’ office is now investigating the Trump Organization “in a criminal capacity,” as opposed to a civil probe. James will join forces with the Manhattan district attorney’s office – which is conducting its own separate inquiry into the Trump Organization – in the matter.
Speaking to MSNBC’s Joy Reid, Cohen said he believes that while legal scholars and the public wonder whether investigators will be able to flip people close to Trump like his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Trump Organization’s CFO Allen Weisselberg, Trump himself will ultimately be the one to switch sides.
“I think Donald Trump is going to flip on all of them, including his children,” he said, adding, “I really believe that Donald Trump cares for only himself and he realizes that his goose is cooked.”
Cohen served as Trump’s personal lawyer for more than a decade before federal prosecutors zeroed in on him as part of an investigation into hush-money payments made to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in the 2000s.
In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to several felonies including wire fraud, tax evasion, and campaign finance violations that he said he carried out at Trump’s direction. He also pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
He has since been cooperating with prosecutors in several ongoing investigations and has met multiple times this year with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., whose investigation into the Trump Organization began as a result of Cohen’s congressional testimony in 2019. Cohen, who is serving out a three-year prison sentence for his crimes, said his meetings with prosecutors in Vance’s office were “not good news” for Trump.
After CNN reported this week that the state attorney general’s investigation had taken on a criminal component, Cohen tweeted out an edited image of Trump behind bars.
“Soon enough, Donald and Associates will be held responsible for their actions,” he said.
During his MSNBC appearance Wednesday evening, Cohen said Trump will try to shift blame for any wrongdoing to everyone but himself, adding that the former president will blame Weisselberg, his accountant, his appraiser, and even his own children.
“This is the problem, it’s never ever Donald Trump. It’s always somebody else,” Cohen said.
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
New York’s investigations into Trump are examining whether his sprawling real-estate company violated state laws when it facilitated an illegal hush-money payment to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. According to earlier court filings, investigators suspect the Trump Organization committed tax and insurance fraud including, among other things, by artificially inflating and deflating the value of Trump’s assets for loan and tax purposes.
Weisselberg is said to be a key focus for investigators as they dig into Trump’s finances. And last month, the FBI raided the property of Trump’s most recent defense lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as part of a separate federal investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine.
Trump, for his part, released a lengthy statement Wednesday attacking the pair of New York investigations as partisan and politically motivated.
The 909-word statement is the longest one Trump has released since he was banned from social media and left office.
“This is something that happens in failed third world countries, not the United States,” the former president lamented.
“If you can run for a prosecutor’s office pledging to take out your enemies, and be elected to that job by partisan voters who wish to enact political retribution, then we are no longer a free constitutional democracy,” Trump, who frequently called for the prosecution and imprisonment of his political opponents while in office, added.
Michael Cohen tweeted a photoshopped picture showing his former boss, Donald Trump, peerint out from behind bars after the New York Attorney General’s office announced it was investigating the Trump Organization “in a criminal capacity.”
“As more documents are reviewed by the #NYAG and #NYDA, it appears that the troubles for Donald #Trump will keep on coming! Soon enough, Donald and Associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen tweeted on Tuesday night.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and claims that the investigations are politically motivated. Both James and Vance are Democrats.
The Washington Post reported, citing a source close to the investigation, that the two prosecutors’ offices are to work together in some respects in their investigations into the Trump Organization. The New York AG’s statement did not mention Vance’s office.
Cohen was once a member of Trump’s inner circle, and a trusted confidante.
However the relationship soured in 2017 after Cohen came under investigation for hush-money payments he paid to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, and for lying to Congress over Trump’s business dealings in Russia.
In 2018, he started cooperating with prosecutors who were investigating his work with Trump, and testified to Congress in 2019. He also wrote a book about his experience working for Trump, calling the former president a racist, a conman, and a tax cheat.
Giuliani also led Trump’s bid to overturn the result of last year’s presidential election and faces two multi-billion dollar lawsuits from voting machine companies Dominion and Smartmatic for groundlessly claiming that they flipped millions of votes.
Giuliani has denied any allegations of wrongdoing in Ukraine and has said he welcomes the lawsuits as they’ll provide an opportunity to further investigate the election machine companies.
He has turned on his former boss, and in a memoir, last year alleged that Trump is a racist and conman who has committed tax and financial crimes.
Trump has denied Cohen’s claims and claims he is a serial liar.
In the interview, Friday Cohen claimed that Trump had abandoned him when he got into legal trouble and would do the same to Giuliani. He welcomed the former New York City mayor to the “under the bus club.”
“He thought Donald Trump was going to pay him $140,000 a day. He has a better chance of sling-shooting himself to the moon,” Cohen said.
“It’s impossible. Donald Trump wouldn’t pay him two cents,” he continued. “His feeling is, it is an honor and a privilege to go to prison for him, to do his dirty work.”
Michael Cohen said he thinks the legal problems facing Rudy Giuliani will go beyond the investigation into his Ukraine dealings.
FBI agents raided the office and apartment of Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, on Wednesday as part of an investigation into whether he broke foreign-lobbying laws in his dealings with Ukraine.
Cohen, who previously served as Trump’s lawyer and fixer, told MSNBC on Thursday that he thinks Giuliani’s legal problems will mount further.
“It may start with just the Ukraine. But that’s not where it’s gonna stop. Because Rudy is actually a stupid guy. Rudy has no idea about technology,” he said.
He did not offer any further detail, but suggested that Giuliani may have said something to implicate himself online or in conversations with people.
He added that Giuliani “says very dumb things, especially when he starts drinking” and that Giuliani goes “running around the world talking to people about how in fact he’s Donald Trump’s right hand guy and he can get everything done.”
He told CNN: “We have no idea how expansive this investigation is going to ultimately reveal itself because Rudy’s an idiot. And that’s the problem. Rudy drinks too much, Rudy behaves in such an erratic manner that who knows what’s on those telephones or what’s on his computers.”
Cohen had his own properties raided in 2018, before he struck a plea deal and cooperated with investigators in the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.
He’s currently serving a three-year prison sentence under house arrest. Trump decried him as a “rat” and a liar after Cohen cooperated.
The mustachioed, press-shy Allen Weisselberg has served as the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer for decades, as well as Trump’s personal bookkeeper. Now, he’s reportedly the subject of a wide-ranging inquiry from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Weisselberg knows more about the Trump Organization’s finances than anyone else
Weisselberg got his start with the Trump family in the 1970s as a bookkeeper for Fred Trump.
Over the years, he ascended the ranks of the Trump Organization to become its chief financial officer, and has held the keys to the family’s financial life, as well. (While other reports refer to him as an accountant, Weisselberg does not hold a CPA license, according to New York state records.)
“There’s a misconception about The Trump Organization that it’s this big, massive company with 10,000 employees,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and a vice president for the Trump Organization, said in Congressional testimony. “It’s not. I mean, the entire company was really run by 12 of us.”
Weisselberg’s name made headlines in 2018 and 2019 as federal prosecutors investigated Cohen’s hush-money payments ahead of the 2016 election to women who accused Trump of having affairs with them.
Cohen released a tape purporting to show Weisselberg discussing how to facilitate the payments and what they might mean for the Trump Organization. And while Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to federal crimes in connection with the scheme, The Wall Street Journal reported Weisselberg himself received immunity for cooperating with the investigators in the Southern District of New York who prosecuted Cohen, avoiding charges.
While the Manhattan District Attorney’s office likely has all the documents they need for their investigation, Jeff Robbins, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw money-laundering investigations, said that having someone like Weisselberg guide them through all the evidence could be enormously helpful.
“I’m sure the records have been turned over by the hundreds and thousands,” Robbins told Insider. “However, it sure makes it a lot easier if you have somebody who can walk the prosecutors through the documents and explain the sequence, and who would have had direct conversations with Trump.”
Unlike Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, two of Trump’s eldest children who play leading roles in his company, Weisselberg has made few forays into politics. New York state voter registration records reviewed by Insider show that he’s a registered Republican living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side (the building previously carried Trump branding that has since been removed), but he didn’t donate to any of his boss’ presidential campaigns.
Weisselberg also donated to former Illinois Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat who led the House’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, in 1994. The donation came a month before Rostenkowski was criminally indicted for his role in a corruption scandal that ultimately led to his resignation and a guilty plea on mail fraud charges.
Weisselberg and his wife have a home, a short drive away from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, in Boynton Beach, Florida. They’re currently involved in a lawsuit with their homeowner insurance company over damage following 2017’s Hurricane Irma.
Mary Mulligan, an attorney representing Weisselberg at Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, declined to comment for this story.
His family’s financial ties with the Trump Organization go into legal gray areas
The Trumps have always seemed to have a porous wall between their personal finances and their businesses and foundations. In 2019, Trump paid $2 million to settle a lawsuit the New York Attorney General’s office brought, alleging he used resources from The Trump Foundation to boost his political fortunes.
These gray areas reportedly extend to Weisselberg and his family. And they also run into possible legal conundrums.
In November 2000, according to Bloomberg News, Trump gave a unit at Trump Parc East, a condominium building at 100 Central Park South, to Weisselberg and his wife, Hilary. Records reviewed by Insider show it had a sale price of $152,500, an eye-poppingly low price for prime Manhattan real estate.
The couple sold it to their son Jack Weisselberg in 2003 for $148,000, who sold it for $570,000 in 2006, Bloomberg News reported.
Barry Weisselberg, another one of Allen Weisselberg’s sons, has even closer and more complicated financial ties with the Trumps. He’s an employee at the Trump Organization, having managed the Wollman ice skating rink in Central Park, which until recently was run by the company through a contract with New York City.
He, too, received an apartment at the Trump Parc East building. According to Bloomberg News, Barry and his now-ex-wife Jennifer Weisselberg received it as a wedding gift in the mid-2000s from Trump and paid for only utilities, at around $400 per month. When the couple moved out, it was rented out for nearly $5,000 per month, and a Trump-owned entity sold it for $2.8 million in 2014, according to Bloomberg.
But while Barry and Jennifer Weisselberg both lived there, Barry listed it as a corporate apartment in his divorce proceedings, Bloomberg News reported. Their tax returns, though, according to Bloomberg News, didn’t always list the apartment as a corporate perk. The designation may mean that Barry Weisselberg and the Trump Organization itself may have not paid the correct amount of taxes on the apartment, Bloomberg’s Caleb Melby reported.
“On the question of where Allen Weisselberg stands in the evidence pyramid, he stands right below Donald Trump himself,” Robbins, now an attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, told Insider. “So it does appear to be an exploration on the part of the DA’s office as to whether or not they can flip Allen Weisselberg by leveraging one of his two sons.”
The investigation into the Weisselbergs grew out of Vance’s investigation into the Trump Organization’s business dealings with other companies, including Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital. Jack Weisselberg is also a subject of the probe, though it’s unclear if he had any role in loans Ladder Capitol gave to the Trump organization, according to Bloomberg News.
The Trump Organization also gave Barry Weisselberg an Upper East Side townhouse while he was in the divorce process in 2018, according to Bloomberg News. It isn’t clear how Weisselberg and the Trump Organization treated it in tax filings.
While Allen Weisselberg seems to have been loyal to the Trump family for years, Robbin said the pressure on his family could flip him.
“The likelihood of him cooperating goes up significantly if, in fact, the prosecutors have criminal charges that can reasonably be brought against his sons,” Robbins said. “For the simple human reason that what father would not do something unpleasant in order to help his sons out of a legal jam?”
Apartments seem to be a common perk for Trump employees. Cohen also had an apartment in one of Trump’s buildings while working for the mogul, and former communications director Hope Hicks stayed in one “rent-free” during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Matthew Calamari, Trump’s loyal longtime head of security, also has a home in the Trump Parc East building, according to records reviewed by Insider.
Jake Weisselberg and representatives for Ladder Capital didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. Barry Weisselberg couldn’t be reached for comment. Jennifer Weisselberg didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The CFO testified for federal prosecutors in Manhattan who secured Cohen’s guilty plea. Weisselberg helped the Trump Organization reimburse Cohen the $130,000 hush-money payment he made to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who said she had sex with Donald Trump during Melania Trump’s pregnancy.
Weisselberg’s name didn’t appear in the charging documents against Cohen, and he was never charged for his participation in the scheme.
Cohen hasn’t forgiven Weisselberg. When the news broke that prosecutors were looking into Weisselberg’s family, he took to Twitter.
“Remember that Allen Weisselberg received (federal) immunity from the SDNY to provide information and testify against me for the @StormyDaniels payment. #KarmaBoomerang,” Cohen wrote.
Weisselberg told prosecutors he had little knowledge of the Trump Foundation’s operations and testified he had no knowledge that he was on the Trump Foundation’s board of directors in a deposition transcript reviewed by Insider.
He did, however, testify that the foundation was used to boost Trump’s campaign in 2016. James’ office used the testimony in its lawsuit against the Trump Foundation where a judge forced Trump to pay a $2 million fine.
Weisselberg’s vast knowledge of Trump’s finances has made him a target in civil lawsuits, as well.
He was a defendant in a 2017 lawsuit from William Weinstein, a New York resident who sought to create a mechanism to ensure that Trump wouldn’t take foreign profits as president through the Trump Organization. It was dismissed in short order, with the judge ruling that Weinstein didn’t have the standing to sue. Trump has steadfastly refused to release financial records, and The New York Times reported that Trump has paid far more in foreign taxes over the past two decades than in US taxes.
He’s been less helpful in an ongoing investigation from the New York AG
Weisselberg also testified in a different, ongoing investigation into Trump’s finances from James’ office, sitting for a deposition under subpoena in July and August 2020.
“When examined by [the office of the attorney general], however, Mr. Weisselberg testified that he had no first-hand knowledge of this fact, had not reviewed the relevant documents to confirm that any such understanding was true, could not identify any return on which the forgiveness was treated as income, and instead was relying solely upon his recollection of conversations he had years earlier with the Trump Organization’s accountants concerning the tax treatment of the amount of the debt that was forgiven,” the filing says.
The Trump Organization refused to furnish the relevant tax documents, attorneys for the AG office wrote in the filing.
The US Supreme Court is declining to hear Stormy Daniels’ appeal in her libel lawsuit against former President Donald Trump.
Daniels, a prominent adult film actress whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, had sued Trump in federal court in California.
She argued he defamed her in a 2018 tweet where he questioned her story of being intimidated in a parking lot with her young daughter by a man who threatened her against going public with her claims that she had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006, an affair that Trump denies.
Daniels said that as was she planning to tell her story to a magazine in 2011, a man approached her and said “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,” while threatening that bad things would happen to her if she went forward.
“Viewed through the eyes of an objectively reasonable reader, the tweet here reflects Mr. Trump’s opinion about the implications of the allegedly similar appearances of Ms. Clifford’s ex-husband and the man in the sketch,” the 9th Circuit panel’s opinion said, characterizing Trump’s tweet as “an opinion” and noting that “statements of opinion cannot form the basis of a defamation claim.”
The 9th Circuit also rejected Daniels’ claim that Trump’s reference to a “total con job” amounted to accusing her of criminal fraud.
“It would be clear to a reasonable reader that the tweet was not accusing Clifford of actually committing criminal activity,” the opinion said. “Instead, as used in this context, the term ‘con job’ could not be interpreted as anything more than a colorful expression of rhetorical hyperbole.”
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution on October 27, 2016.
Trump was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, “Individual-1,” on some counts in the case.
Cohen said he facilitated a $130,000 payment to Daniels “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election,” which violates campaign finance law by exceeding the maximum contribution of $2,800 that a person can give to a candidate for federal office.