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Who is Allen Weisselberg, and why is he so important to Donald Trump?

If Mr. Weisselberg comes under more pressure from prosecutors, the information harvested from him could feed into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and that could be bad news for Mr. Trump.

Of the several legal troubles that orbit U.S. President Donald Trump, the most consequential may be the immunity granted to his long-time financial manager Allen Weisselberg by federal authorities in New York. Mr. Weisselberg has cooperated with at least one investigation branching out of the probe into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. If Mr. Weisselberg comes under more pressure from prosecutors, the information harvested from him could feed into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and that could be bad news for Mr. Trump.

Why is it important?

There are reasons for that. Mr. Trump has few confidants outside his family, and Mr. Weisselberg, 71, is an exception. He started working for Fred Trump, the President’s father. By the late 1980s, he had become the controller at the Trump Organization. He is now its CFO and executive vice-president. He also serves as treasurer at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is already under investigation by New York state authorities, and had remained at the centre of news reports through the 2016 campaign for the wrong reasons. He knows all about Mr. Trump’s money for the last 40 years. Given the murky nature of the real estate business anywhere in the world, there could always be enough matter of interest for investigators, and Mr. Weisselberg could be a treasure-mine for them. “He’s negotiated Trump’s loans, is a co-signer on his accounts, helps arrange his taxes, and, with Trump’s sons Don Jr. and Eric, oversees the trust that holds all the President’s assets,” according to a Bloomberg report last week, after The Wall Street Journal broke the story about his cooperation with investigators. “He did whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line,” Mr. Trump wrote of his confidant in a book.

What is his role?

Mr. Weisselberg has cooperated with federal prosecutors in a case against Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s long-time lawyer, who has pleaded guilty to making unreported campaign contributions to the President in 2016, among other things. The money in question was paid to two women as hush-money to remain silent on their alleged affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea said he paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford and coordinated a $150,000 payment by the publisher of National Enquirer to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. Mr. Cohen said these payments were made to ensure that their stories would not impact Mr. Trump’s campaign, under his instruction.

The Trump Organization reimbursed Mr. Cohen, and Mr. Weisselberg was involved in the process that prosecutors allege was carried out through phony invoices. A telephone conversation between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump that the former’s lawyer has recently released discusses paying David Pecker, CEO of National Enquirer’s publisher who had paid Ms. McDougal for the rights of her story. “I have spoken with Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Mr. Cohen is heard telling Mr. Trump. What happened after that conversation remains unclear.

What lies in store?

Besides cooperating with the investigators, Mr. Weisselberg has testified before the grand jury. What remains unclear is the extent of his offer of cooperation and the nature of the immunity he has been granted. Mr. Trump himself and his close advisers insist that Mr. Weisselberg has cooperated with the prosecutors for the limited question of Mr. Cohen. “100 percent he didn’t,” Mr. Trump told Bloomberg this week, asked whether Mr. Weisselberg betrayed him. Mr. Trump claimed that the cooperation was related to “a very limited period of time.” “He’s a wonderful guy,” the President said. Mr. Trump’s opponents, wishing for his impeachment, are hoping that Mr. Weisselberg will turn out to be wonderful for them.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:27:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/who-is-allen-weisselberg-and-why-is-he-so-important-to-donald-trump/article24842299.ece

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