As prosecutors built a criminal case against Donald J. Trump for his role in a hush money payment to a porn star, they interviewed several key witnesses: Mr. Trump’s onetime fixer, the former publisher of the National Enquirer and the actress herself.
There is one central player who did not cooperate with the Manhattan district attorney’s office: Mr. Trump’s longtime financial gatekeeper.
Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, is believed to have played an important role in the hush-money deal with the porn star, Stormy Daniels, who accepted a $130,000 payoff to keep quiet about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump.
Yet Mr. Weisselberg is currently serving the final weeks of a 100-day sentence in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex after pleading guilty last year to unrelated tax fraud charges and testifying against the Trump Organization at its trial on the same accusations.
Despite testifying in the tax case, Mr. Weisselberg has never implicated Mr. Trump in a crime. That’s not for a lack of pressure: The district attorney’s office has tried time and again to persuade him to turn on his longtime boss.
At trial last year, Mr. Weisselberg walked a delicate balance. His plea deal, which avoided a long prison sentence, required that he testify truthfully against the Trump Organization, even while the family that has employed him for nearly a half-century continued to pay his salary and his legal bills. In essence, Mr. Weisselberg, who prepared for his testimony with both the prosecution and the defense, needed to serve two masters.
One, the Trump Organization, was upset. His testimony proved damning for the company, which was convicted in December.
Mr. Weisselberg’s decision to meet with the prosecutors ignited a battle between the company and his lawyer, Nicholas A. Gravante Jr., according to people with knowledge of the matter. Some people in Mr. Trump’s circle questioned whether Mr. Gravante, who had secured the plea deal that spared Mr. Weisselberg a lengthy prison sentence, was too cooperative.
Mr. Weisselberg recently cut ties with Mr. Gravante, one of the people said, adding that the tension from the trial helped lay the groundwork for the change. Mr. Weisselberg is now represented by Seth L. Rosenberg, a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. Mr. Rosenberg’s hiring was first reported by The Daily Beast.
The switch had no immediate impact on Mr. Weisselberg’s relationship with either the district attorney’s office, which continues to seek his cooperation against Mr. Trump, or the Trump Organization, which continues to pay his legal bills.
Mr. Weisselberg still could be valuable to prosecutors on several fronts, including the hush-money inquiry.
Michael D. Cohen, the former fixer who paid $130,000 to buy Ms. Daniels’s silence in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, has said that he coordinated with Mr. Trump and Mr. Weisselberg. And Mr. Cohen wrote in his memoir that when Mr. Trump reimbursed him for the $130,000, Mr. Weisselberg helped handle the repayment.
Mr. Cohen testified before the state grand jury that has now indicted Mr. Trump, as did David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the hush-money deal. Ms. Daniels also met with prosecutors virtually, but has not appeared before the grand jury.
In 2018, Mr. Weisselberg testified before a federal grand jury that was hearing a case against Mr. Cohen, who eventually pleaded guilty to his role in the hush-money deal. And the federal prosecutors who obtained Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea for a time investigated whether Mr. Weisselberg lied in the grand jury or obstructed the investigation. They closed the inquiry without charging him.
Mr. Weisselberg did not testify before the state grand jury that has now indicted Mr. Trump, but that does not mean he won’t become a witness later. The prosecutors in recent weeks have mounted additional pressure on Mr. Weisselberg to cooperate, warning that he might otherwise face a new round of charges unrelated to the hush money case.
The prosecutors likely want his cooperation not just with the hush-money case but also a broader investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices.
Yet there is no sign that Mr. Weisselberg will cave. One of his sons has long worked for the Trump Organization. The company also agreed to a generous severance package for Mr. Weisselberg as he was preparing to enter Rikers Island.
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