President Donald Trump’s top money man, Allen Weisselberg, has long managed Trump’s global business while shunning the blinding spotlight his boss commands.
Now, with Democrats demanding Weisselberg come to Capitol Hill to answer their questions, Trump will need to consider whether a man who has worked for his family for more than 40 years can remain a trusted employee and intimate confidant.
Story Continued Below
Last summer, federal prosecutors in Manhattan granted the 71-year-old Weisselberg immunity to testify in their investigation of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Some media reports breathlessly suggested at the time that Weisselberg might be turning against the president himself.
But Trump and his aides aren’t worried. They believe that Weisselberg’s testimony was limited to a narrow set of topics involving Cohen. That likely explains why Weisselberg still works as chief financial officer of The Trump Organization, according to multiple people familiar with the company’s hierarchy and records obtained by POLITICO, and continues to have an executive office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower.
“He’s still a respected participant. He’s still there,” said a source close to The Trump Organization. “He’s not ostracized.”
Weisselberg roared back into the headlines Wednesday thanks to Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee, during which Cohen named his former colleague as a co-conspirator in a long list of possible crimes. They include making hush payments to a porn star who says she had an affair with Trump; helping Trump inflate the value of his assets to insurance companies and improperly devalue Trump’s assets. Cohen also repeatedly referred House members back to Weisselberg when they asked about other topics, including possibly illegal Trump Organization tax schemes.
“Who would know the answer to those questions?” Cohen was asked.
“Allen Weisselberg,” he said repeatedly.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats armed with subpoena power say Weisselberg is one of their top targets for questioning as they launch an expansive investigation into Trump’s business. On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Democrats said they would call Weisselberg for questioning, and members of the House Oversight panel have discussed doing the same.
“There seems to be overlap in a lot of the private matters with the president,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who chairs a key House subcommittee on national security issues. “I think if there’s any one person who has a view of that and a perspective of that and a granular understanding of that, it will be Mr. Weisselberg.”
There are signs that The Trump Organization is prepared to fight back against inquiring Democrats. Earlier this week, a lawyer for the president’s company demanded that the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee cease its investigation because it had been “irreparably” tainted by hiring a legal consultant whose firm has also long represented The Trump Organization.
But they’ve been more circumspect about answering questions from federal prosecutors. The Wall Street Journal last August reported that federal prosecutors had granted Weisselberg immunity to testify before a federal grand jury in New York as part of their investigation into multiple crimes Cohen committed, including the hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels.
Days after that story broke, Trump shrugged it off in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News, calling Weisselberg “a wonderful guy.” Asked whether Weisselberg had turned on him or put him in legal jeopardy, the president replied, “100 percent he didn’t.”
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani also has insisted that the immunity agreement the Trump Organization CFO had struck in the Cohen case wasn’t a sweeping one that covered other topics under federal prosecutors’ purview.
“Allen is not someone who is cooperating,” the former New York mayor told POLITICO last fall.
“He has a limited agreement, very limited,” added a person close to the White House and familiar with the situation.
Giuliani also said that Weisselberg’s lawyer had continued to be in a joint defense agreement with Trump’s attorneys, an arrangement similar to one with Paul Manafort’s legal team despite the former Trump campaign chairman’s guilty plea to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Weisselberg has been among the most loyal employees to Trump’s company, where he began working for the president’s father, Fred, in 1973 and never left. While Cohen and other Trump staffers are better known, few if any nonfamily members have played a bigger role in the president’s life.
Weisselberg has negotiated Trump’s loans, co-signed his accounts and helped complete his personal taxes. After Trump became president, Trump turned over the day-to-day operations of his company to his two adult sons and Weisselberg. Donald Trump Jr. and Weisselberg also were put in charge of an existing trust where the president placed his holdings.
“Allen Weisselberg … knows of every dime that leaves the building,” former Trump campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie wrote in their 2017 book, “Let Trump Be Trump.”
Trump sometimes lashes out at people he believes have turned on him, but more often remains loyal. He has defended both his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort even after they began cooperating with Mueller. He has kept former campaign manager Lewandowski in his inner circle after firing him. White House counsel Don McGahn remained on the job despite spending more than 30 hours interviewing with Mueller’s team.
“He never really lets go of people,” said Trump biographer Gwenda Blair, who met Weisselberg while she spent years researching her books about the Trump family. “That’s because he wants to keep them close. Trump has a long history of doing that.”
A review of the most up-to-date state records of where Trump owns golf clubs, hotels and condos shows Weisselberg is still listed on a slew of documents, from corporate registrations to liquor licenses. He was even named in late September, a month after his immunity deal in the Cohen case went public, as a director of one of Trump’s golf club in Scotland on the financial documents the Trump Organization filed with Companies House, a British government agency.
During his Wednesday testimony, Cohen said he spoke to Trump and Weisselberg about how to pay off Daniels as part of a “financial fraud” and that Weisselberg made the decision that Cohen should be repaid over 12 months, rather than with a lump sum, to create the false appearance of a retainer. Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. signed a check to Cohen to reimburse him.
“Mr. Weisselberg for sure [knew] about the entire discussions and negotiations prior to the election,” Cohen told lawmakers.
Cohen also said Weisselberg worked with Trump to inflate assets to insurance companies and to improperly devalue Trump’s assets, though he offered no details. And Cohen said Trump asked for him and Weisselberg to work together to exaggerate Trump’s worth to ensure him a place on Forbes magazine’s annual list of America’s richest people.
“There were times that I was asked, again with Allen Weisselberg … to go back to speak with an individual from Forbes, because Mr. Trump wanted each year to have his net worth rise on the Forbes wealthiest individuals list,” Cohen said.
The Trump Organization and its lawyers did not respond to requests for comment about Weisselberg’s role with the company and his time spent with federal prosecutors.
Spokesmen for Mueller, who is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, and for the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor from South Florida, said Weisselberg’s immunity deal likely would require him to produce any documents requested and to truthfully answer any questions related to Cohen.
But that’s far less than the kind of sweeping nonprosecution agreement federal authorities can apply when asking witnesses to share everything they know on a wide range of topics.
The belief that Weisselberg has not entered into that sort of agreement might explain why Trump feels comfortable allowing him continued access to his prized financial secrets.
But Weinstein floated another theory: “Perhaps they feel that by keeping him in the organization, they will be more aware of what he is producing,” he said. “That or they believe that his testimony can’t harm them.”