Holy cow is this massive news. I know it’s easy to get lost in the perpetual firehose of Trumpian lunacy these days, but this is a big, big story that has really bad implications for the President of the United States. Per the Wall Street Journal (emphasis mine):
Allen Weisselberg, President Trump’s longtime financial gatekeeper, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen in the criminal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Weisselberg was called to testify before a federal grand jury in the investigation earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal previously reported, citing people familiar with the investigation.
The decision by prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office to grant immunity to Mr. Weisselberg escalates the pressure on Mr. Trump, whom Mr. Weisselberg has served for decades as executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. After Mr. Trump was elected, he handed control of his financial assets and business interests to his two adult sons and Mr. Weisselberg.
Quick note: As this former federal prosecutor notes, “immunity” can mean a lot of different things.
That’s right, folks. When it comes to managing Dear Leader’s “business” empire while guiding the American empire, he only trusts his two idiot sons and Allen Weisselberg, and now the only competent member of that trio is speaking with federal investigators with the confidence that nothing(?) he tells them will come back to bite him legally. What this news also means is that the Trump Organization’s CFO himself had criminal liability, otherwise he wouldn’t need immunity. It also tells us that he provided important provable information, otherwise prosecutors would not feel the need to grant him leniency.
The timeline being laid out in the Michael Cohen case is not great for our commander-in-cheeto, because it doesn’t solely encompass potential criminal liability by Trump pre-presidency. Michael Cohen was Trump’s “personal lawyer” until a few months ago. If there were any post-2016 shenanigans going on in the Trump Organization (*looks directly at camera*), one of the three people alive familiar with the intimate details of said potential shenanigans is cooperating with investigators. The other two are immediate family. Plus, this is the second longtime Trump ally to be granted immunity in connection with Michael Cohen’s case this week.
Yesterday, hours after Trump ranted about getting rid of “flipping” (the process described above where prosecutors grant immunity or reduce the punishment in return for some level of cooperation), one of his best friends and most useful allies, CEO of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, was given immunity.
This news comes on the heels of yesterday’s report in the New York Times that Manhattan prosecutors are looking at criminal charges against the Trump Organization:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.
Both officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed.
The reason why this is such a big deal is because anyone with a cursory knowledge of Donald Trump’s businesses knows that Trump Organization has ostensibly been functioning as something of a criminal enterprise for years. They make deals with contractors across the world to slap their name on buildings they don’t own, and then sprint away from as much liability as possible while squeezing every nickel out of the deal that they can by doing things like not paying their contractors. This is what I was getting at yesterday in my piece theorizing where the various Trump investigations will go next:
Cohen isn’t the big player in Trumplandia that he seems to be portrayed as in much of the media. Yes, he helped keep all of Trump’s embarrassing dalliances out of the spotlight and consulted on a litany of shady deals, but he doesn’t know anywhere near as much as say, Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. If Weisselberg gets subpoenaed, that’s a red siren (wait, Weisselberg was already called to testify to a grand jury in the Michael Cohen probe? Well then).
This week sure looks like a turning point in the Trump investigation. His former campaign manager was found guilty on eight counts of various fraud connected to his pre-2016 work on behalf of the Kremlin’s favorite political party in Ukraine, and he has another trial scheduled in Washington D.C. next month. The president’s longtime fixer pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud, and said he made payments to Karen McDougal (a story that was squashed with the help of David Pecker) and Stormy Daniels “at the direction of” the president.
Now, for the bad news: whether a sitting president can be indicted is unsettled law, and longstanding DOJ procedures say that they cannot be indicted. However, those are far from being a final word on the subject, and if Trump were found guilty of at least the crime he admitted to on Fox & Friends (*takes 15 minute break to cackle uncontrollably at our utterly moronic reality*), there’s a good chance that the case would go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Trump’s new nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has indicated in the past that he does not see how it is possible for the president to have criminal liability, given that he is the head of the branch of government tasked with enforcing the laws. One of the fatal structural flaws of our constitution is that by making the commander-in-chief ostensibly the chief lawman in the country, the presidency has been awarded more power than most monarchs throughout history (and this was before W. Bush and Obama’s dramatic expansion of executive power this century). We’re about to find out how many failsafes America has for a president who puts their own interests ahead of the rule of law.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.