Weisselberg, Trump Organization, Alan Weisselberg discussed on The Lawfare Podcast
Office have issued an indictment against the trump organization. And its chief financial. officer allan weisselberg. It was shall we say not the indictment that many people who imagined accountability for donald trump would have prayed for or would have expected it focuses on under the table compensation for senior executives one senior executive in particular to chew it all over. We got an incredible group of people. L'affaire senior editor quinta jurassic. Daniel hemel a tax law expert at the university of chicago and rebecca roy. Th-they of the new york law school. Who is an expert on prosecutions and politicization and a veteran of the new york office. That brought the case. We covered a lot of ground. You won't want to miss it. It's the law podcast. july second. The trump organization indicted all right so quick. I want to start with you. There's been a lot of both disappointment. And excitement expressed about this indictment and a little bit less signal as to. What's actually in it. So let's start with what's actually in it. What did cy vance and latisha. James allege about alan weisselberg and the trump organization. So first off. I'll say i was listening to. Npr in the minutes after the indictment was released and think the host said about every other sentence that trump himself was not indicted. So i'll begin by taking a cue from npr and emphasizing that here as well trump himself was not indicted. This is an indictment of the trump organization and of the organization's chief financial officer ellen. Weisselberg as you said the indictment alleges a prolonged scheme over the course of about fifteen years that essentially allowed weisselberg and other unnamed executives to evade paying a fairly substantial amount of taxes by giving them perks and benefits sort of off the books so it alleges that weisselberg was provided with an apartment that the organization paid the fees for the school tuition of some of his relatives including check signed by donald. J trump himself. There is a car that was driven by weisselberg. And so the problem here is essentially that by not listing this level of income. It essentially allowed the employees to avoid paying taxes so it amounts to a substantial amount of tax revenue that both new york state and the federal government did not receive crucial. To this is that it's not a one-off weisselberg was doing this for himself and nobody else knew about it as i said the indictment does allege that some of the checks were signed by trump. Personally it also points to involvement by other executives. There is an unindicted co-conspirator listed and we can talk about that and it also points to just a really built out infrastructure within the trump organization itself to make this happen. There's a description of spreadsheets that the organization catch to essentially make sure that the benefits that they were providing weisselberg were not listed as his official income. And so this. I think is is partially explains why the organization was indicted along with weisselberg and why prosecutors are alleging a conspiracy rather than kind of a one off okay daniel. So there's been a bit of a dispute as to whether this is small bore kind of corruption stuff or whether this is something big and important. And i can kind of argue this either way but i'm i'm interested in your sense of it. Is this more or less or about what you were expecting this indictment to contain. I thought that this was from a tax perspective jaw-dropping front for non-tax lawyers. The trump organization didn't report weisselberg didn't pay taxes on fringe benefits. It might sound like a footfall from a tax perspective. Got more than a million dollars in clearly. Unambiguously taxable fringe benefits that you're not reporting to the irs not reporting to state tax authorities and keeping a separate set of books internally counting that as compensation. That's really really really bad to put this in perspective. This is pretty similar to what leona helmsley did. Leona helmsley was sentenced to prison for four years for booking to her company expenses on her greenwich mansion. Here weisselberg was booking the entire cost of his apartment to the trump corporation one of the trump organizations entities so that strikes me as one of the tax events that actually could get you locked up. There are other facts near that are really bad for weisselberg. So he got three thousand dollars in wads of cash at the end of the year that the corporation kept track of but he didn't report as income but the more than a million dollars a year in apartment expenses. That's a really bad. Okay but let me push back on that a little bit because there's some things that aren't in here right. We had a. I don't know thirty page. New york times expose about the trump organization. Overvaluing it's real estate holdings for certain purposes and undervaluing them for others. Right we had all kinds of discussion about the president's personal taxes in the context of litigation from this office trying to get access to those records. None of that information is in here. And what is in here is kind of limited to x. compensation by of executives and one executive in particular and the absence of tax payments on it. Should we regard this as a new kind of important advance in the trump accountability story. Or is this just like leona. Helmsley thing where you know. Alan weisselberg cheated on his taxes and the trump organization helped him do it. We don't know yet. So i think that this would be a chargeable offense. If it weren't trump connected it probably wouldn't be discovered if it weren't trump connected but the then state attorney general of new york roc charges against leona helmsley for what she did and this seems similar it would surprise me of all this going on just for weisselberg and it would really surprise me if the man on top didn't understand what was going on. He was writing personal checks for the tuition expenses of wisely grandkids at columbia grammar. This is a man who says he has the best understanding of anyone of our complex tax loss so he should have understood that that was employee compensation that had to be reported. So i think this makes it plausible that trump ultimately gets charged for tax. Defense we're not there yet. But i would consider this a bad day for the trump organization. All right this is a very a good transition to rebecca's particular expertise Related to this question which is the office and its behavior that brought this case so you used to serve in the new york. Da's office if this were a federal case. I would feel like. I knew how to read it. That is with respect to the question that daniel just post. Which was what. Is this a harbinger of and i would look at this case and say it's pretty narrow. The conduct is agreed. Gis but it is focused on this one executive compensation question. It's not keesing other issues. It's not dangling a lot of issues related to the former president's personal conduct except this one issue related to his signing a check so this is would indicate to me in the federal system that this is kind of what they got and there may be trying to put pressure on alan weisselberg to cooperate but they don't have something a whole lot bigger or it would be in this indictment and my question to you is. Is that the right way to read the conduct of this office given that they just impaneled a special grand jury to sit for good while longer. They've got michael cohen. Who clearly wants desperately the testify and we do know. There's this other kind of stuff out there. So how should we read what this office is doing here. So i have to say. I'm not sure in this regard. How different the two offices are. I was a little bewildered. When news of this came up. Before i saw the actual indictment. Because i would normally think that you would receive the swaggie would kind of come out with your indictment that has what you got and you wouldn't drop one piece of it ahead of time and i you know conflict scratching my head and thinking like maybe there's a statute of limitations for long you know. I couldn't wait understand why they were doing it like this but i will say one thing about the office. Which is that in a way because we the. Da doesn't have the same tools that the federal government has both in terms of substantive law and in in terms of some procedural issues it forces them to be a little bit more like scrappy. I'm creative so i do feel like sometimes you just go off script in a case when because you needed to get somewhere so i think maybe we have to look at it like that that you know without knowing without being privy to like whatever meetings led up to this in some way. This is some kind of creative step trying to do something. And i think the best gas is what you said. Which is they are trying to put pressure on weisselberg to cooperate. Now one way you could look at. It is without him. they can't bring the case. I think i would put it slightly differently. Which is that. I mean when i was there we bring cases i have to say. Also i'm worked for. I worked in this division called investigation division central which was Run at the time by a lawyer named john moscow and he was sort of known for being a little bit crazy and he ran their big of securities fraud big financial crimes unit. And so he would do things that were really. Looks like defense attorneys. We get with the go crazy because they were so like unorthodox and so..