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Michael Cohen’s secret Trump tape brings Allen Weisselberg into saga

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Michael Cohen and Donald Trump
Michael Cohen and Donald
Trump.

Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters


  • A new figure finds himself at the center of the ongoing
    saga involving President Donald Trump and his former longtime
    lawyer Michael Cohen.
  • The person is Allen Weisselberg, chief financial
    officer of the Trump Organization.
  • Cohen mentioned him twice on a September 2016 audio
    recording of the attorney and Trump discussing the idea of
    purchasing the rights to the story of a Playboy model who
    says she had an affair with Trump years ago.
  • Experts say this could put Weisselberg in hot
    water.

A new figure finds himself at the center of the ongoing saga
involving President Donald Trump and his former longtime lawyer
Michael Cohen after CNN aired a September 2016 audio recording of
those two men discussing payments made to former Playboy model
Karen McDougal.

That figure is Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief
financial officer. Cohen mentioned Weisselberg at a couple of key
points during the recording, which he made without Trump’s
knowledge. That recording was seized by the FBI in April
raids of Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room as part of a
criminal investigation into the attorney.

The existence of the
tape 
was first revealed on Friday. Trump’s
attorneys waived privilege claims over that tape and 11 others
that were seized from Cohen. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis,
provided the tape to CNN.

Former Playboy model Karen McDougal has alleged she had an affair
with Trump in 2006. The National Enquirer purchased McDougal’s
story for $150,000 in August 2016, but never published anything
on it. That practice is known as “catch and kill,” and it
effectively silenced McDougal’s allegations.

The tape contains a conversation between Cohen and Trump in which
they discuss a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story
from the outlet’s publisher, American Media Inc., for about
$150,000. David Pecker, the head of American Media Inc., is a
longtime friend of both Trump and Cohen.

On the tape, Cohen says he
needs to open up a company for “the transfer of all of that info
regarding our friend David,” referencing Pecker. He said he spoke
with Weisselberg “about how to set the whole thing up,” later
adding he also spoke with Weisselberg “about when it comes time
for the financing.”

Cohen’s reference of Weisselberg represents an under-the-radar
but critical comment in the tape. Weisselberg’s involvement in
such discussions and/or other payments involving women could drag
the Trump Organization’s top financial officer into the Cohen
investigation, possibly opening the door to Trump’s books.

‘It may be that the Southern District will reach out to
Weisselberg and pressure him to testify against Trump’

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a
partner at Thompson Coburn, told Business Insider that “at the
very least,” Weisselberg is likely now an important witness in
the Southern District of New York’s investigation into Cohen
“because he can recount what Cohen said” to him about the
possible payment, something investigators were already said to be
probing.

Weisselberg could face his own liability too, depending on
what was said in that conversation, Mariotti said.

But the only way Mariotti sees Weisselberg’s involvement
becoming more closely tied to the Trump Organization is if the
company was directly involved in any financing, not if he was
providing Cohen with his own advice on how to handle the
matter.

Meanwhile, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing the Trump
Organization, disputed Cohen’s comments from the tape in an
interview with The Washington Post.

“The notion that Mr. Cohen would have spoken to Mr. Weisselberg
about a proposition he had yet to even make to the president does
not ring true,” he said. “Mr. Weisselberg is a bookkeeper who
simply carries out directions from others about monetary payments
and transfers. There would be no reason for Mr. Cohen to have any
conversation with Mr. Weisselberg prior to him recommending and
obtaining approval for the purchase he was suggesting.”

Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who
previously served as an assistant US attorney for the
District of New Jersey, told Business Insider that it seems
likely the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New
York will want to speak with Weisselberg as a result of Cohen’s
comments, in addition to reviewing any records of such a
conversation were created at that time regarding the potential
payment for McDougal’s story.

Pointing to Cohen’s and Futerfas’ comments, Epner said one of two
things must be true: “Either Michael Cohen lied to Donald Trump
when he said that he had already discussed the issue with Mr.
Weisselberg, or Mr. Futerfas’ statement is false.”


Donald Trump
Trump.
Kevin
Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images


Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was
formerly a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New
York , told Business Insider the mention of Weisselberg is
“significant” because “it demonstrates that more folks than Trump
and Cohen knew about” the potential payment for the McDougal
story.

“So it may be that the Southern District will reach out to
Weisselberg and pressure him to testify against Trump,” he said.
“Or it may even be the SDNY will charge Weisselberg in a
conspiracy case.”

A longtime Trump fixture

The Cohen tape is the latest episode where Weisselberg, a
longtime Trump Organization executive, pops up.

In May, The New York Times
reported 
that Weisselberg had known of the
2016 reimbursement made to Cohen for his $130,000 payment to porn
star Stormy Daniels since 2017, long before Trump attorney Rudy
Giuliani told Fox News that Trump had reimbursed Cohen. But The
Times reported that a person familiar with the situation said he
did not know about the Daniels payment when it took place.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleged a 2006
affair with the president and was paid by Cohen to stay quiet
about those claims. Trump denied the affair.

Weisselberg is also a key figure in the New York Attorney
General’s lawsuit against the Trump Foundation. The lawsuit
alleges that the campaign engaged in a “pattern of illegal
conduct” that stretches for more than a decade. It included
allegations of coordinating with the Trump campaign.

In one piece of evidence included by acting New York Attorney
General Barbara Underwood, Trump signed a note addressed to
“Allen W” calling for the foundation to provide $100,000 to
Fisher House as part of a legal settlement involving Trump’s
Mar-a-Lago resort.

Weisselberg was the foundation’s treasurer.

Weisselberg’s appearance on the Cohen recording should worry
Trump

Bloomberg opinion editor Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer,
wrote that Weisselberg’s
appearance on the secret Cohen recording “should worry the
president.”

“Weisselberg has detailed information about the Trump
Organization’s operations, business deals and finances,” he
wrote. “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.”

Weisselberg, who traces his origins at the Trump Organization to
the 1970s when he began working under the president’s father,
Fred Trump, “knows more about the Trump Organization’s history
and finances than nearly anyone,” O’Brien wrote.

Weisselberg was named along with Trump’s two adult sons, Eric and
Donald Jr., as the individuals who would manage the Trump
Organization in Trump’s absence prior to his taking office in
2017. In 2016, The Wall Street Journal wrote
that Trump Organization insiders said the low-key Weisselberg was
crucial to the business.

Jed Shugerman, a Fordham University law professor, told
Business Insider that the tape “potentially implicates
Weisselberg in a felony” involving campaign finance
violations.

“Furthermore, Cohen might offer more
information about Weisselberg’s criminal liability in this case
or others,” Shugerman said. “If Weisselberg is facing a criminal
indictment, the question is what else does he know that he could
offer prosecutors?”

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