The spiraling investigations surrounding President Trump are reaching deeper into his inner circle.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CFO of the Trump Organization and longtime Trump family confidante, Allen Weisselberg, was given immunity for providing information on Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime “fixer,” who pleaded guilty this week to eight counts of finance-related crimes.
Weisselberg, a “colorless” financier in the words of one Trump biographer, is widely believed to know more about Trump’s business empire than anyone not named “Trump.”
Now, as investigators encircle Trump’s company, the colorless 71-year-old accountant may become Trump’s next full-blown technicolor nightmare, legal experts told VICE News, thanks to the potential threat represented by his detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Trump Organization, the president’s sprawling real estate company.
“Weisselberg and Cohen could be a deadly one-two punch,” said Charles A. Intriago, a former federal prosecutor and a money-laundering expert. “Weisselberg’s knowledge of the money flows, combined with Cohen’s knowledge of the shady use of money, could be devastating.”
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The Journal reported Weisselberg was granted immunity by federal prosecutors as part of the criminal investigation into hush-money payments Cohen made to two women before the 2016 election, citing two unnamed sources.
That report followed Thursday night’s New York Times bombshell, which said the Manhattan District Attorney may drop criminal charges on the Trump Organization, and two senior unnamed corporate officials, in connection with how the company reimbursed Cohen for one of those payments.
“I think Weisselberg could sink Trump”
Weisselberg, who was reportedly subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the Cohen matter earlier this year, may be uniquely positioned to draw a detailed map of Trump’s business empire for investigators — and provide testimony and documents relating to any improper dealings of the type alleged by Cohen, observers said.
“When you’re looking at money-related crimes, one of the first people any prosecutor or grand jury will want to interrogate is the financial officer — because he knows where the money came in from, and he knows where it went,” Intriago said. “I think Weisselberg could sink Trump.”
Trump's money man
Weisselberg first signed on to work for Trump’s father, Fred Trump, in the 1970s before rising over decades of service from an accountant to become chief financial officer of the firm. He even once appeared on Trump’s reality TV show "The Apprentice."
Weisselberg has reportedly overseen the preparation of Trump’s tax returns, which Trump has steadfastly refused to make public.
After Trump won the 2016 election, the new president handed over control of his private business operations to just three people: his two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, and Weisselberg.
“Weisselberg has detailed information about the Trump Organization’s operations, business deals and finances,” Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien wrote after word of Weisselberg’s subpoena emerged in late July. “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.”
Read: Michael Cohen’s lawyer says he’s willing to dig into Trump’s past “as far back as anyone wants”
Weisselberg may be able to straighten out what really happened with those hush-money payments Cohen set up to women shortly before the election.
Cohen testified that “the candidate,” Trump, directed him to make those payments. But Trump disputed that account, saying Wednesday on Fox News that he didn’t learn about the payouts until “later on.”
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up”
Weisselberg’s name came up in a recording Cohen secretly made of then-candidate Trump about a plan to establish a shell company to secure the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen tells Trump. “So, I’m all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it.”
After Cohen paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who also said she had a liaison with Trump over a decade ago, the Trump Organization approved $420,000 in payments to Cohen. To do so, prosecutors said the company relied on Cohen’s “sham” monthly invoices, according to legal filings in Cohen’s case.
The Times said Thursday that the state investigation into those payments would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Cohen.
Inner circle threat
Criminal charges at the state level represent a special kind of threat to Trump’s inner circle because unlike in federal cases, the president doesn’t have the power to pardon people convicted of state crimes.
How much Weisselberg knows for certain about the details of these arrangements remains unclear.
“At the very least, he could be an important witness and help investigators understand financial records and emails and things of that nature,” said Renato Mariatti, a former federal prosecutor.
Weisselberg’s buttoned-up style could also make him a more-credible counterweight to Cohen, who's been blasted by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a “pathological liar” and a “scumbag.”
Read: Rick Gates said he did crimes with Manafort and stole his money
Even Cohen’s own lawyer, Lanny Davis, told VICE News that Cohen’s done a lot of things “he’s not proud of.”
Gwenda Blair, who wrote a biographic history of Trump’s family, interviewed Weisselberg in the early 1990s, and found him to be a quiet, serious professional. “It’s not just that he wasn’t flashy,” Blair told VICE News. “He was low-key to the point of colorless."
Potential star witness
That could make Weisselberg a much more credible witness than Cohen, said Paul Rosenzweig, a former member of the Ken Starr investigation into President Bill Clinton.
Rosenzweig compared Cohen to Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators before becoming the star witness in the trial of his former boss, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort was found guilty of eight criminal counts by a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday.
“The government uses tainted people like Cohen all the time — just look at Rick Gates,” Rosenzweig said. “The way they fight the argument that ‘this person’s a liar’ is by looking for corroboration. Documents are great. Untainted witnesses are also great.”
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. (Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images)