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Prosecutors grant immunity to longtime Trump finance chief

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this Aug. 21 photo, Michael Cohen, center, leaves federal court in New York. President Donald Trump has long demanded loyalty from his friends and associates. But he has been learning the hard way that in politics those relationships come and go. A key defection came this week when Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, implicated the president in a stunning plea deal, followed by a longtime friend and media boss cooperating with prosecutors.

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NEW YORK >> President Donald Trump’s finance chief, a confidant who has worked for the family’s real estate business since the early 1970s, was granted immunity in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on today.

The immunity granted to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, was restricted to his grand jury testimony last month in the Cohen case, specifically the allegations that Cohen paid hush money to two women who claimed affairs with Trump, according to one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The deal for the 71-year-old Weisselberg, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, is seen as a major development since he’s likely to have knowledge of every major personal and business deal Trump has been involved in since his career as a real estate mogul began.

Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance violations Tuesday. And while not named in the Cohen case, Weisselberg is believed to be one of two Trump executives mentioned in the suit who reimbursed Cohen and falsely recorded the payments as legal expenses.

Weisselberg’s deal comes on the heels of several media reports Thursday that Trump’s longtime friend David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., has also been granted immunity in the Cohen probe, as well as the company’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard.

The AP reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents about hush-money payments and damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to 2016 presidential election.

Calls and emails to the Trump Organization to reach Weisselberg and general counsel Alan Garten were not immediately answered. An assistant said both were out of the office today.

Weisselberg, an intensely private, loyal numbers-man for Trump, was mentioned on an audiotape that Cohen’s lawyer released in July of Cohen talking with Trump about paying for Playboy model Karen McDougal’s silence in the months leading up to the election. Cohen says on the tape that he’d already spoken about the payment with Weisselberg on “how to set the whole thing up.”

In Cohen’s court appearance in Manhattan to enter his guilty plea Tuesday, Cohen admitted to making payments of $150,000 to McDougal and $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels “at the direction” of Trump for the “principal purpose of influencing the election.”

The Trump Organization eventually reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels, accepting sham invoices and recording the money it sent to Cohen as legal expenses. In court filings, prosecutors say two unnamed Trump Organization employees — “executive 1” and “executive 2” — helped set up the reimbursement.

“Please pay from the Trust,” executive 1 is quoted directing to another unnamed employee. “Post to legal expenses.”

The “Trust” refers to the entity that Trump set up after the election to hold his assets. He put the trust in the hands of his two sons and Weisselberg.

The identities of executive 1 and 2 are still unknown. Just because the Weisselberg and the sons were given control, that does not preclude others from handling the business.

Weisselberg is an unlikely player in the unfolding presidential drama, a low-profile employee who appeared in “The Apprentice” as a judge once but otherwise rarely drew the spotlight. He isn’t even mentioned in many of the biographies of his boss.

But as the perhaps the longest-serving employee in the Trump family business, he is rich repository of knowledge, and the idea of him answering questions to investigators under oath poses a new danger for the president as federal prosecutors in Washington and Manhattan dig deeper into the president’s business affairs.

From his first job helping with the books for Trump’s father, Fred, in 1973, the Pace University graduate has gotten his fingers into nearly every aspect of the family business — vetting deals, arranging financing, auditing, managing cash — eventually rising to oversee all finances of its far-flung operations.

And aside from Trump, he is perhaps best qualified to answer two of the big questions about the businessman-turned-president over the years: Is he really worth $10 billion, as he claims, and what’s in his tax returns? Trump testified in a case years ago that Weisselberg was the one who values his properties and other assets, and he has reportedly helped with Trump tax returns.

In addition to his title as chief financial officer, Weisselberg holds executive positions at many Trump entities, including director of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is being sued by the New York state attorney general for allegedly tapping donations to settle legal disputes among other illegal uses. The White House has dismissed the suit as politically motivated.

Weisselberg comes off in depositions in that case and others over the years as unobtrusive, loyal and undemanding.

Asked about what he thought of a last-minute order by Trump to catch a flight to Iowa to tend to some business during the campaign, Weisselberg said in one deposition that “it doesn’t matter what I thought. He’s my boss. I went.”

He added that it was a rare trip for him: “I have never gone anywhere with Donald.”

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