Following a late Thursday report in the New York Times that two senior officials in the Trump Organization may face criminal charges in connection with Michael Cohen's $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, the Wall Street Journal reports that longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been granted immunity by US prosecutors in the Cohen investigation.
The decision by prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office to grant immunity to Mr. Weisselberg escalates the pressure on Mr. Trump, whom Mr. Weisselberg has served for decades as executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. After Mr. Trump was elected, he handed control of his financial assets and business interests to his two adult sons and Mr. Weisselberg. -WSJ
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight criminal charges, and claims that President Trump directed him to buy the silence during of two women who claim to have had affairs the billionaire over a decade ago. Trump's knowledge of the payments has become a key issue in the case, as Trump initially claimed he knew nothing about them - only to admit this week that he knew about them "later."
Last year, Weisselberg coordinated the Trump Organization's reimbursement of Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford). Weisselberg didn't know what the payment was for, according to the Journal, citing "a person familiar with the CFO's thinking," when he agreed in January 2017 to pay Cohen $35,000 per month for "persuant to retainer agreement."
That month, according to charging documents filed Tuesday, Mr. Cohen gave executives at the Trump Organization a copy of the bank statement from his bank account for Essential Consultants LLC, the company he used to pay Ms. Clifford the previous fall. The statement reflected Mr. Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford, as well as an additional $50,000 that Mr. Cohen added in handwriting was for “tech services.”
Executives at the Trump Organization “ ‘grossed up’ for tax purposes” Mr. Cohen’s requested reimbursement, doubling it to $360,000, and added a $60,000 bonus, the document said. The next month, one executive at the company asked another executive to pay Mr. Cohen’s monthly retainer “from the trust” and to “post to legal expenses.” -WSJ
Weisselberg was called to testify earlier this year before a federal grand jury, according to the Journal's previous reporting.
Weisselberg's interview with Mueller's team raised eyebrows among prosecutors for precisely the same reason. He is likely to have a lot of historical knowledge & know where evidence can be found. If he is cooperating, prosecutors may not need Cohen. https://t.co/IYkKOgN1hE— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) August 22, 2018
That said, buried in the WSJ's article is the admission: "The Journal couldn’t determine whether Mr. Weisselberg told prosecutors that Mr. Trump had knowledge of the payments."
In July, Bloomberg noted in an op-ed: "Weisselberg has detailed information about the Trump Organization’s operations, business deals and finances. If he winds up in investigators’ crosshairs for secreting payoffs, he could potentially provide much more damaging information to prosecutors than Cohen ever could about the president’s dealmaking."
As we reported last night, the current investigation appears to now revolve around how the Trump Organization accounted for the payment to Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), who claims to have had an affair with President Trump over a decade ago.
Also granted immunity is David Pecker, CEO of American Media - the National Enquirer's parent company. Pecker reportedly gave prosecutors information about the president's knowledge of the payoff of former Playboy model Karen MacDougal, who was paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer, which then sat on the story in a practice known as "catch and kill."
Pecker's input "appears to have informed the charging documents made public on Tuesday as part of Mr. Cohen's guilty plea to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations tied to the payments."
In exchange for immunity, Mr. Pecker, CEO of American Media, Inc., has met with prosecutors and shared details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged in an effort to silence two women who alleged sexual encounters with Mr. Trump, including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals, some of the people said. Prosecutors have indicated that Mr. Pecker won’t be criminally charged for his participation in the deals, the people said. -WSJ
In a recorded conversation released in July, Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing purchasing the rights to McDougal's claim. Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he needs “to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," likely referring to American Media Inc. head David Pecker.
"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.
Trump interrupts Cohen asking, "What financing?" according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, "We'll have to pay." Trump is heard saying "pay with cash" but the audio is muddled and it's unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, "no, no, no" but it is not clear what is said next.
CNN airs audio from the Michael Cohen/Trump tape where they discuss paying off Karen McDougal pic.twitter.com/gRZXUE2cMF— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 25, 2018
Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, contested Cohen attorney Lanny Davis's interpretation - releasing the Trump team's version of the transcript, which contradicts Davis. While Davis said Trump was suggesting the two pay cash, Giuliani's version of the transcript says Trump is saying, "Don't pay with cash...check."
The Times pointed out on Thursday, meanwhile, that Trump would be powerless to pardon people or corporate entities convicted of state crimes - only Federal violations.
Weisselberg’s cooperation takes the Mueller and SDNY investigations out of some of the penny ante stuff in play so far and into the heart of the Trump Organization and President Trump’s business history. The game gets started here. https://t.co/8R66Kei01I— Tim O'Brien (@TimOBrien) August 24, 2018
If course, if all prosecutors can connect to the president after their alien-tier probing of Trumpworld is that two porn stars were paid off for decade-old flings, and no evidence of Russian collusion, money laundering or other malfeasance is found - it may embarass Trump on one hand, while at the same time exonerating him of the most damning accusations against him.
Didn't Attorney Lisa Bloom arrange payments to female Trump accusers to influence the outcome of the election?— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) August 24, 2018
Where is DOJ's prosecution of Bloom for the over limit donations to Hillary?