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Former President Donald Trump's company and its Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg were indicted on 15 criminal charges Thursday for allegedly evading about $900,000 in taxes with the help of the Trump Organization and its payroll corporation. Yamiche Alcindor reports with Adam Kaufmann, former prosecutor and chief of the investigative division in the Manhattan district attorney's office.
As we reported earlier, former President Donald Trump's company and its chief financial officer were indicted on 15 criminal charges today for alleged tax crimes.
Yamiche Alcindor looks at what it means for the company and for the former president.
The 25-page indictment against the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg alleges that, since 2005, Weisselberg evaded some $900,000 in taxes. It also says he did so with the help of the Trump Organization and its payroll corporation.
To help us break down the charges, I'm joined by Adam Kaufmann. He formerly served as a prosecutor and chief of the Investigative Division in the Manhattan DA's office, working with the current district attorney, Cyrus Vance.
Thank you so much, Adam, for being here.
So, talk to me about the significance of Weisselberg being charged today, and what does this mean for former President Trump and the Trump Organization?
So, what does it mean for the president, former president and the organization?
It's a substantial blow. What we see here is the CFO of the organization being accused of not just receiving benefits, but also orchestrating the payment of tax fraud — orchestrating a tax fraud scheme over more than 10 years, resulting in the nonpayment of $1.7 million in taxes.
So, when we were talking and thinking about this earlier today, this indictment is actually a lot bigger and more severe than I anticipated seeing today.
And when you look at — oh.
No, please, go ahead.
And when you look at the 25 pages, it's false accusations, it's defrauding. It seems as though this is calling the Trump Organization a sort of criminal organization.
Well, it's certainly calling it a criminal tax fraud organization. That's literally what it has done.
It's interesting. If you read the indictment, it really spells out the many different ways that the Trump Organization and Mr. Weisselberg orchestrated this tax fraud. It's not such an unusual indictment.
I know that the sort of sound bites coming out of the Trump camp would say that this is unheard of, unheralded, they have never seen such a thing, charging a corporation. The reality is that, when I was in the — running the Investigation Division, I probably authorized dozens or scores of indictments very similar to this one.
What I see here that is a bit unusual is almost the scope of the fraud and the greed that it represents. So, you have the benefits, the nonpayment — or the payment, rather, of apartment, car, and so forth. But you have lots of different ways that tax fraud were committed.
You also have writing checks to employees from different Trump organizations and cashes those and taking cash back. You have payment of year-end bonuses, and, for some employees, declaring it, and, for other special employees ,not declaring it.
What's also interesting — and it speaks to the exact intent of tax evasion and tax fraud — is that, internally, the Trump Organization and Mr. Weisselberg as CFO were keeping very careful track to deduct from Mr. Weisselberg's salary the value of the goods and services that he was receiving and the services he was receiving.
So, internally, they're keeping track of it, but, externally, when they go to the tax authority, they are not declaring it. So, you really see a clear dichotomy between what is being — it's almost like the classic two sets of books, which I think is very interesting.
Two sets of books.
And, also, President Trump is calling this a witch-hunt. His lawyers were calling it a political prosecution. Associates of President Trump — to former President Trump tell me that he will feel pretty protected from this as long as he isn't charged.
So, what do you know, and what does this tell us about the possibility of others being charged and particularly the former president possibly being charged?
We just really can't know the scope of the investigation at this point.
There are a few things in the indictment that we can sort of parse out that might give some idea. We see the indictment refers to Mr. Weisselberg and other executives in the Trump Organization, so that's some indication that there were others involved.
We see the fact that the tuition payments were — came from the Donald J. Trump trust and signed by the former president himself. So those are sort of interesting little pieces.
The other thing I noticed — and I — it's sort of in the weeds, but if you look carefully at the indictment, the last three or four charges involve falsifying business records. That's a very common white-collar crime charge that prosecutors bring, and it reflects creating some type of false entry in the records of the business.
Two or three of those charges are false tax records, which you would expect to see in a tax fraud case, false W-2s, 1099s, things like that. The final count in the indictment, though, says that they destroyed a record. It's that they destroyed and obliterated a record in the Donald Trump personal ledger.
And, to me, that charge really sort of — it sort of stuck out from the rest, because it sort of pointed to something much more on an intimate level, a personal level between Mr. Trump and Mr. Weisselberg.
So, some clues there, but, as far as the panoply of crimes that we have heard about, false valuations, Stormy Daniels, inflated valuations, false losses coming from international companies, there's been a lot out there that we just haven't seen yet.
The question is whether this investigation is going to go on to look at those or, of course, if it's done and they have looked at that and they decided there is no criminal activity. So there's a lot to be seen in the four months that we still have to go in this grand jury term.
And in the 10 seconds that we have left here, talk a bit about where this might go next. I know, as a matter of law, grand jury investigations are secret, but where might this go next?
Well, I just sort of laid out a bunch of other areas that I'm sure the district attorney is still looking at.
So, I would be expecting them to keep going through the records, keep calling witnesses who might be able to shine some light on exactly the scope of any criminal conduct in the organization, and, of course, who was involved.
Well, thank you so much, Adam Kaufmann, former prosecutor. We really appreciate you coming on.
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Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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