Here are some of the key takeaways.
1. The charges
These are the first charges stemming from the investigation, but they aren’t as serious as some wagered they might be. The 15 counts include conspiracy, grand larceny in the second degree, multiple counts of tax fraud and multiple counts of falsifying records. All 15 counts apply to Weisselberg. Most also include the Trump Organization as a whole.
The alleged crimes took place over a period of more than 15 years, between 2005 and today, with the indictment citing an alleged lengthy “scheme to defraud” the government. They include Weisselberg allegedly evading taxes on more than $1.7 million of income.
Prosecutors allege that Trump Organization executives received “secret pay raises” while failing to pay the proper amount of taxes.
“To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme,” said prosecutor Carey Dunne.
The Trump Organization’s lawyers declined to comment on the specifics of the indictment.
At the same time, prosecutors indicated there could be more to come. They asked for a protective order to limit disclosure of the proceedings, citing an ongoing investigation.
2. Mentions of Trump/"Unindicted Co-conspirator #1″
The main question in all of this, of course, is how much any of it can be connected personally to former president Donald Trump. And the indictment makes only a few mentions of Trump by name. Each time it refers to an entity or a signature in the former president’s name, rather than specific actions taken by Trump.
There are some intriguing references to an unnamed “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1,” but it’s not at all clear that it is Trump — and significant reasons to believe it’s not.
“From at least 2005 through the date of this indictment, the named defendants and others, including Unindicted Co-conspirator #1, agreed to and implemented a compensation scheme with the object of enabling Weisselberg to underreport his income to federal authorities, and thereby evade taxes and falsely claim federal tax refunds to which he was not entitled,” the indictment says early on.
It says later: “On or before April 5, 2010, the Trump Corporation, acting through its agent, Unindicted Co-conspirator #1, underreported Allen Weisselberg’s taxable income for the tax year 2009.”
Unlike in the criminal case against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, in which Trump was clearly referred to as “Individual 1,” this isn’t so obviously Trump. (While many wrongly labeled Trump an unindicted co-conspirator in that case, in this case prosecutors say this unnamed person participated in the crimes.) For one, at another point the indictment references the Trump Corporation’s “president,” which was Trump, without labeling that person as the unindicted co-conspirator.
One possibility would seem to be that it’s Matthew Calamari, whom the Wall Street Journal reported last week was under significant scrutiny. Calamari was not otherwise named in the indictment and hasn’t been charged. But like Weisselberg, he has been around Trump for decades, starting as Trump’s bodyguard in 1981 and later becoming the Trump Organization’s chief operating officer. In other words, there are significant reasons prosecutors would be interested in him.
At the same time, another portion of the indictment seems to reference Calamari and his son, another employee who has also reportedly been probed, without listing him as an unindicted co-conspirator. The Journal reported Calamari and his son were under scrutiny for lodging and car leases, and the indictment cites two unnamed employees who “received substantial amounts of compensation in the form of lodging in New York City and the payment of automobile leases.”
There are all kinds of reasons to label someone as an unindicted co-conspirator (just not the ones Tucker Carlson recently laid out). Chief among them is that prosecutors believe the person engaged in the conspiracy but the evidence can’t yet be charged. Another is that the person has cooperated and thus avoided their own charges. (At this point, it hasn’t been reported that any Trump Organization officials have cooperated to avoid prosecution.)
For now, all we have is speculation about who that unindicted co-conspirator is. But either way, the indictment doesn’t lay out any significant and detailed actions by Trump personally.
3. Fraud in relatively plain sight?
While the charges might be less far-reaching than some expected, they do betray a certain alleged brazenness.
For instance: “Specifically, Weisselberg caused the Trump Corporation to issue corporate checks made payable to a Trump Organization employee who cashed the checks and received cash. The cash was given to Weisselberg for his personal use. The Trump Corporation booked this cash as ‘Holiday Entertainment,’ but maintained internal spreadsheets showing the cash to be part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation.”
Another example: “For certain years, the Trump Organization maintained internal spreadsheets that tracked the amounts it paid for Weisselberg’s rent, utility, and garage expenses. Simultaneously, the Trump Organization reduced the amount of direct compensation that Weisselberg received in the form of checks or direct deposits to account for the indirect compensation that he received in the form of payments of rent, utility bills, and garage expenses. The indirect compensation was not included on Weisselberg’s W-2 forms or otherwise reported to federal, state, or local tax authorities, and no income taxes were withheld by the corporate defendants in connection with the indirect compensation.”
We have yet to see the actual evidence here, but it sounds as though the records match up rather neatly to show how this was done.
All of which also raises the question: If this was happening with Weisselberg and it was recorded, could it also have been happening with other employees in seemingly relatively easy-to-prove ways?
4. The flip question
There is little doubt that a large part of the motivation for prosecuting Weisselberg — or even Calamari — is the possibility that he might flip on someone higher up, up to and including Trump. That’s just how these things generally work, and The Washington Post has reported that is indeed Vance’s goal. As far back as the Mueller investigation, Weisselberg was also a focal point because of the possibility that he, as someone who has literally been around Trump for decades (since 1973), might seek to cut a deal.
Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law Jennifer Weisselberg, who has provided evidence in the case, has gone so far as to predict that Allen Weisselberg will indeed eventually flip.
So far, though, there is little indication that’s going to happen. And letting things get to the point of criminal charges is generally to be avoided if Weisselberg had any intention of flipping. At that point, it becomes clear that you are trying to save your own hide and trading your own legal liability for your boss’s. The benefit, of course, is that it forces prosecutors to actually make good on their threats that you could face prosecution.
They have now done that, and now Weisselberg must decide how much criminal liability he foresees for himself — along with whether he has something to offer that could reduce or eliminate it, if he might ever be so inclined. Many analysts suggested the charges, such as they currently exist, were not serious enough to spur such a flip for the 73-year-old Weisselberg, who is toward the end of his career.
Trump’s team, of course, is sending very unsubtle signals, as he has before repeatedly, that he would very much like Weisselberg to stand strong and will reward him for doing so with continued support.
“Allen Weisselberg is a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who has worked at the Trump Organization for 48 years,” the Trump Organization said in a statement. “He is now being used by the Manhattan district attorney as a pawn in a scorched-earth attempt to harm the former president. The district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice; this is politics.”
The subtext: They’re trying to make you a “pawn.” Don’t be their pawn.
The difference now is that Trump has no such power to legally protect Weisselberg — both because he’s no longer president and because, even if he were, this isn’t a federal case. About the best Trump can do is keep claiming Weisselberg is a political target, which his company has now set about doing.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s indictments is to stay tuned. To the extent this ever touches Trump personally, there would seem to be much we don’t yet know. The question is whether prosecutors have — or will have — the goods to bring it to that level.