Trump Organization’s Lawyers Try to Pin Blame on Former Finance Chief
Allen H. Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of Donald J. Trump’s family business, on Friday finished testifying against his employer of a half century, capping the most eventful week of the Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial thus far.
Mr. Weisselberg, who struck a deal with Manhattan prosecutors to plead guilty to tax evasion, was questioned by the company’s lawyers, who aimed to persuade jurors that Mr. Weisselberg had acted in his own interest. They also sought to sow doubt over Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony, noting he had struck a plea deal with the prosecution.
Friday’s testimony followed two days in which Mr. Weisselberg detailed the mechanics of an off-the-books compensation scheme that brought him and other employees untaxed luxuries like apartments, cars and tuition. Defense lawyers continued to try to undermine the prosecution by suggesting that Mr. Weisselberg acted only for himself and without the knowledge of the company or Trump family — and to spread the blame.
Alan Futerfas, a company lawyer, grilled Mr. Weisselberg about his relationship with the outside accountant that vetted the Trump Organization’s taxes, who the defense has suggested shared culpability by not advising Mr. Weisselberg and the company controller to stop questionable practices.
Trump Organization lawyers also tried to suggest that Mr. Weisselberg was testifying under duress. When Susan Necheles, another defense lawyer, asked whether he was worried about displeasing the prosecutors and incurring a longer prison sentence, Mr. Weisselberg responded simply: “What is in my mind is to tell the truth at this trial.”
The lead prosecutor, Susan Hoffinger tried to elicit testimony from Mr. Weisselberg showing that the Trump family knew about the scheme, and that Mr. Weisselberg had engaged in it because he knew it would benefit to the company. The prosecution must convince the jury of that to win a conviction.
Ms. Hoffinger began her questioning by asking Mr. Weisselberg whether he thought Mr. Trump, or either of his sons Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr., knew about the practices before the behavior stopped in 2017.
Mr. Weisselberg testified that Mr. Trump knew about the tuition payments for his grandchildren and that the company was paying for his rent. But Mr. Weisselberg demurred when he was asked whether Mr. Trump or other members of the Trump family knew about the other benefits that he had received and that he wasn’t properly reporting them to tax authorities.
Ms. Hoffinger also asked how the family treated Mr. Weisselberg once they learned about his tax-fraud scheme. Mr. Weisselberg said that he had not been fired, that the Trump Organization has continued to pay him his salary and bonus, and that it also pays for his lawyers. Ms. Hoffinger asked whether Mr. Weisselberg had “some of the best lawyers in New York City” representing him.
“I hope so,” Mr. Weisselberg said, getting a laugh from the courtroom.
After Mr. Weisselberg left the stand and his lawyers exited the courtroom, the prosecutors called a witness from their own office to go over financial documents in depth. It was a definitive sign that the most interesting testimony of the trial had concluded.