The Inconvenient Legal Troubles That Lie Ahead for the Trump Foundation [View all]
The Inconvenient Legal Troubles That Lie Ahead for the Trump Foundation
Barring an unexpected change, the Donald J. Trump Foundation will be defending itself in a New York courtroom shortly before this falls midterm elections. The proceedings seem unlikely to go well for the institution and its leadership; President Trump and his elder children, Ivanka, Donald, Jr., and Eric, are being sued by New Yorks attorney general, Barbara Underwood, for using the charity to enrich and benefit the Trump family. On Tuesday, the judge in the case, Saliann Scarpulla, made a series of comments and rulings from the bench that hintedwell, all but screamedthat she believes the Trump family has done some very bad things.
A series of subpoenaed e-mails and a fascinating deposition offer a glimpse into the work of a mysterious figure, Allen Weisselberg, who has handled Donald Trumps finances for as long as hes had any. First hired by the Presidents father, Fred Trump, Weisselberg has been the one steady presence in the Trump Organization for the entire period that Donald Trump has run the company. I have spoken to many current and former Trump Organization employees who have shared the same description of the company: it is a chaotic mess, in which projects are randomly distributed to in-house staff. A lawyer might be asked to negotiate a real-estate deal, an executive might be tasked with setting up a product-licensing arrangement. While there are traditional titles, such as general counsel or senior vice-president of operations, there is no standard business hierarchy. Trump, before he became President, would tell people what they should do with no clear regard for consistency. The currency of the place was always ones proximity to the big boss, Donald Trump, so people didnt tell colleagues which projects they were handling, out of fear that those colleagues might undermine them. I heard, repeatedly, that there were only two people who knew about every deal the company made: Trump himself and Allen Weisselberg. However, Trump, rather famously, rarely concerned himself with details and often forgot who had received which assignments and how different deals were structured.
Weisselbergs testimony in the trial, then, could prove revealing. He is perhaps the only non-family member who knows the inner workings of the Trump Organization. Michael Cohen will be a key figure in understanding Trumps recent business relationships with several overseas partners suspected of potentially engaging in money laundering, corruption, and sanctions violations. (A federal criminal investigation of Cohen includes more than four million business files that will soon be turned over to investigators and are likely to shed light on the companys operations during the ten years that Cohen was involved.) But it is only Weisselberg who can recount the essence of the Trump Organization from the beginning of Donald Trumps involvement: in the nineteen-seventies, when the company first discriminated against African-Americans; in the eighties, when Trump appears to have been in business with the New York mafia; in the nineties, when Trumps casino was in violation of anti-money-laundering laws; and through the aughts, as Trump developed ties to many Russian and former-Soviet oligarchs and political figures.
The Trump Foundation case may have already revealed a potential rift between Weisselberg and the family. His deposition in the case is fascinating reading. Weisselberg makes it quite clear just how sloppy an operation the foundation was, with no meetings and no careful accounting. In a compelling exchange, Weisselberg describes how he flew to Iowa with a checkbook to give money to political allies of Trump, then a Presidential candidate, and he makes it clear that he did this because his boss told him to. It is a damning statement, and the first evidence I have seen that Weisselberg, when cornered, may be willing to shift blame to the President. Judge Scarpulla will continue pushing the Trumps to settle. Trump-watchers, though, will likely hope that the family chooses to fight. We will learn much more if Weisselberg and others take the stand.