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A second top Trump associate receives legal immunity

In exchange for immunity, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, will reportedly talk to investigators about the reimbursements he helped arrange to Michael Cohen. Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor experienced in trying white-collar crime, and Caleb Melby, who covers business and the Trump Organization for Bloomberg News.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump business organization, has struck a legal immunity agreement with federal prosecutors.

    It is the second day in a row a man with close ties to President Trump has made a deal. Weisselberg is reportedly testifying to a grand jury about more than $400,000 in reimbursement payments that he helped arrange to Mr. Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen.

    Cohen pleaded guilty earlier this week to eight felonies. Among other things, he told the judge that Mr. Trump directed him to pay hush money to two women in exchange for their silence about alleged affairs.

    Yesterday, another longtime friend of the president, David Pecker, who runs the company that owns The National Enquirer, struck his own immunity agreement.

    President Trump has railed against flipping. That's the term for turning over information against people who were former confidants. He told FOX News it — quote — "ought almost to be illegal."

    To help explain what we know or what we think we know about the Trump Organization and the legal questions surrounding these immunity deals, I'm joined by Caleb Melby. He covers business and the Trump Organization for Bloomberg News. And Renato Mariotti, he's a former federal prosecutor who tried white-collar crime cases, including tax evasion and bank fraud. He is now an attorney in Chicago.

    Welcome to both of you.

    So, Renato Mariotti, to you first.

    What exactly do we understand this immunity agreement with Mr. Weisselberg to mean? What it — what does it represent?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, it means, first of all, that Mr. Weisselberg himself had criminal liability.

    You don't need an immunity deal if you weren't involved potentially in committing a crime. That's the first thing. Second of all, it indicates that prosecutors believe that there was something valuable that they were getting in exchange for his testimony.

    Prosecutors don't just give away immunity like candy. They have a specific reason for doing so. So, here, it appears Mr. Weisselberg's cooperation was at the very least helpful to prosecutors in securing the conviction of Michael Cohen, who pled guilty earlier this week.

    I think the question is, is there other potential value in that testimony beyond that? And I think that's an important question going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what I wanted to ask you, staying with you, Renato Mariotti, because The Wall Street Journal — there have been other reports about his testifying to the grand jury last month.

    And the question is, is it just around the Michael Cohen payments to these two women, or is it something broader? How do we read that?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, it's interesting, Judy, because even if you look at the Michael Cohen payments, those payments resulted in false statements within the records of the Trump Organization.

    The Wall Street Journal story that broke this talks a little bit about that. But, for example, Mr. Cohen submitted a request for payment to be on retainer for I think it was $35,000 a month, and included other payments — there's, I think, a $50,000 consult — consulting fee and so on — that were not actually the truth.

    And those are laid out in the charging documents that the Justice Department filed in New York charging Michael Cohen. And so the question is, if there are false financial statements in the Trump Organization books, who is at the Trump Organization responsible for that? Was that false information ever transmitted to others, for example, to a bank, in order to obtain a loan? That would be bank fraud.

    So, Mr. Weisselberg did — it certainly appears that he's around criminal activity there. And I think the real question now is, are federal prosecutors looking at others in the Trump Organization, including potentially family members? And also the New York attorney general is look — has as an investigation into these matters as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Caleb Melby, you have covered the Trump businesses for several years.

    Tell us exactly what Allen Weisselberg role is there.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Yes, I mean, the question really is what his role isn't.

    If you think about the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, the Trump children, Donald loves to talk about his biggest, most beautiful assets. He loves golf courses, and he loves opening up international hotels and condominium buildings around the world that have his name on it, even if he doesn't own them.

    But he's not a finance guy. He's not somebody who can tell you what the net operating income from this building is, or what the interest payment on that loan is. And Allen Weisselberg is that guy in almost all cases. So he's the guy who's negotiating these international licensing agreements.

    He's — he's the guy who's talking with banks, especially post-financial crisis, to get the loans that the Trump Organization needs to do business on a day-to-day — day-to-day business schedule.

    So, they're — he's really very close to the details of everything that actually makes the Trump Organization run.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, reflecting back on what we just heard Renato Mariotti say about what the federal — what federal investigators would be looking at, Allen Weisselberg could well be or is the person inside the Trump Organization who knows about loans, transactions and so forth specifically that go well beyond this Cohen, Michael Cohen matter?

  • Caleb Melby:

    Absolutely, Trump's personal finances, beyond the businesses, his taxes, his charity.

    And keep in mind that when Trump became president of the United States, he put all of his assets and companies into a trust, and he put his two children and Weisselberg in charge of that trust.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Renato Mariotti, once — trying to understand this — once Mr. Weisselberg has been granted legal immunity, is he then expected to talk about that entire collection of information, business information, that he has about the Trump empire?

    What are the — what are federal investigators able to ask him about and expect an answer on?

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Well, typically, Judy, in exchange for immunity, you agree to cooperate with the government full stop.

    In other words, you're not cooperating just with one component of the Justice Department. You're cooperating with the Justice Department completely. Typically, federal and state authorities work hand in hand. And so I would expect, for example, that he would also agree to cooperate with state authorities as well.

    And the real question is, what else are federal prosecutors looking at? Now, to be clear, as I pointed out a moment ago, even if they're just looking at these transactions, there are various assorted crimes.

    And as was just mentioned a moment ago, that trust, for example, was actually mentioned in the Cohen charges. And Mr. Weisselberg, and then there's another individual, we're not — it's not clear who that other individual is, but it could be, for example, one of those family members — is mentioned.

    So this could potentially expand very quickly to other individuals, even if prosecutors are focused on that transaction, because I don't — I don't expect prosecutors to just ask willy-nilly about everything related to the Trump Organization.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Caleb Melby, how transparent has the Trump Organization been over the years? How much is known?

    We know the president has not released his own tax returns. But how much is known, how much is not known? What are the questions you, as a reporter, would have about it?

  • Caleb Melby:

    Well, yes, we have — we have seen throughout the campaign and throughout the election all sorts of stories about, say, the relationship with Deutsche Bank or the relationship with certain partners overseas that have had their own legal troubles in those jurisdictions.

    It's a private company. They have not disclosed typically more than anything that other — any other private company does.

    The one benefit reporters have had over the last couple of years is a personal financial disclosure that Trump — Trump has filed in conjunction with being a candidate and being the president. Of course, that is — that's information that they have self-disclosed. There's no real audit or review, independent, to help confirm the accuracy of that information.

    So, the sorts of stuff that we could get answers you are the sorts of things that people have been asking questions about for the last two years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as we say, so many questions. We're only beginning to get some of these answers.

    And we thank you both, Caleb Melby with Bloomberg News, Renato Mariotti. Thank you both.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Thank you.

  • Renato Mariotti:

    Thank you.

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