Nobody Knows the Trump Organization Like Allen Weisselberg
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Since he won the Republican presidential nomination in July 2016, Donald Trump has weathered an amazing number of fiascoes that have threatened him and his various moneymaking concerns. But when news broke that Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of Trump’s namesake company, had received immunity in a federal investigation into the finances of the president’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, it rocked the family-run business in ways that two years of scandals hadn’t, say two people familiar with the company.
Weisselberg’s importance to the president eclipses his title. After more than 40 years serving the family, including Donald’s father, Fred, he’s the only person not named Trump whom the president trusts with his money. 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. He “knows of every dime that leaves the building,” Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie wrote of Weisselberg last year in a book about their time running Trump’s presidential campaign.
Weisselberg’s immunity is tied to his cooperation with the probe into payments facilitated by Cohen to two women who threatened to go public with their claims of extramarital affairs with Trump. The Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen the $130,000 he paid to Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, according to court records. At least three employees were involved in the effort. Weisselberg, according to the Wall Street Journal, is one of them.
Few know the workings of the family’s enterprise as well as Weisselberg, making him perhaps the most sought-after witness among the gaggle of federal, state, and local prosecutors who might wish to dig into the dealings. Insiders don’t expect Weisselberg, a lifetime supporter of the Trumps, to cooperate beyond the narrow confines of the Cohen probe, according to two people familiar with the Trump Organization. But if prosecutors find evidence of more criminal activity, Weisselberg may face pressure to further cooperate given his potential exposure. That, in turn, could put heat on other executives, including members of the family.
Don Jr., who attended a meeting with Russians he expected would offer damaging information on Hillary Clinton, has already obtained legal representation. As he’s become more involved in Republican politics, and with his sister Ivanka Trump in the White House as an adviser, his younger brother Eric has become the Trump Organization’s functioning chief executive officer. All three have a longtime role with the company. The sons, as well as Ivanka, have helped sell the Trump brand overseas, often in deals involving buildings developed by local partners with legal problems. Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, didn’t return a request for comment on behalf of the company or Weisselberg.
Weisselberg is chief among a clutch of loyalists whose tenures can be measured in decades. Matthew Calamari, whom Trump picked up as a bodyguard in 1981 after seeing him handle hecklers at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, is now the Trump Organization’s chief operating officer. His son oversees security. That role was held for more than a decade by Keith Schiller, a former New York police officer who followed Trump to the Oval Office before leaving to pursue work in private security.
George Ross, 90, who began working with Trump in the 1970s and was a judge on The Apprentice, is among the Trump Organization’s executive vice presidents and has deep knowledge of its inner workings. His role as Trump’s go-to real estate lawyer was taken over by general counsel Alan Garten, who joined the company in 2006. With Trump in the White House, Garten now reports to Don Jr. and Eric. Weisselberg’s longtime deputy, Jeff McConney, has worked for Trump since the ’80s and is now controller of the company. He too is intimately familiar with its assets and finances.
Weisselberg’s cooperation may break a trend in the various investigations surrounding the president, where low-level functionaries become targets in a ground-up strategy. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and frequent Trump critic, says the cooperation of such a senior executive can speed up an investigation. Prosecutors will want to know if the Trump Organization sent any falsified records to potential lenders or partners, he adds. “There’d be potential criminal liability for any executives or family members who may have touched those statements,” Mariotti says.
Before he ran for president, Trump would have workdays that often began and ended with meetings with Weisselberg, according to the president’s 2004 book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire. “He did whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line—and refused to succumb to the pressures of risk,” Trump wrote of Weisselberg. “He’s so tough that most banks would rather I negotiate the deal than him.” Those negotiating skills may come in handy should he need them against some aggressive prosecutors.
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