They should have charged Trump and his offspring, not just his CFO and the family business, but I suppose that will come in due time. A family business is different from a corporation; in the end it will be Trumpanzee and the little Trumpanzees who must be held accountable.
In her Vanity Fair column today, Bess Levin noted that Trumpanzee, Jr. and Eric are insisting that People Dodge Taxes All The Time, It's Not A Big Deal. Really. I don't dodge taxes. And it is enough of a big deal to change their lives significantly. As Levin noted, the sons think the amount of money Allen Weisselberg hid from the IRS is chump change no one should care about." So far there are 15 criminal counts including conspiracy, grand larceny, and multiple counts of tax fraud and falsifying records.
This will at minimum be the end of the Trump Organization, Weisselberg may go to prison for over a decade and Señor T "may ultimately find himself personally charged and possibly behind bars. But according to his two adults sons who took over the day-to-day running of the family business in 2017? None of this is a big deal and people dodge six to seven figures worth of taxes all the time."
Appearing on Fox News last evening, the ex-president’s namesake nodded in agreement as host Jesse Watters’ suggested that the amount of money Weisselberg is alleged to have hid from the IRS is basically pocket change.
“They’re alleging $100,000 a year in perks over 15 years. This is a $2 billion company, the Trump Organization, so we’re talking about pennies on the dollar, okay? Pennies on the dollar,” Watters declared. “So this is all they can find? This is all they can find? After promising, what, illegal loans from Moscow? Illegal tax shelters? They promised us the world. So if this is all they can find, a Mercedes that wasn’t properly filed in a tax return? This is usually dealt with from my understanding, maybe a fine, maybe you just refile the tax. Never have they ever charged anybody criminally like this before.” To which Don Jr. responded, “Correct.”
For one thing, we love the idea that Watters and Trump Jr. are all, “That’s all you got?? $1.5 million? Our butlers make more money in a year than that,” when the MAGA crowd is supposedly the party that actually cares about the middle and working class, and the average American makes somewhere in the range of $40,000 a year. For another, as many have pointed out, this is very likely just the beginning of the investigation, not the end.
Don Jr., of course, isn‘t the only Trump boy trying to downplay the situation. After citing Daily Mail comments as a legal defense, Eric Trump also showed up on Fox News to claim that there are way more important things for New York prosecutors to be doing than worrying about an unrepentant alleged tax cheat. (Weisselberg, along with the Trump Organization, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.)
Channeling his father, who spent the last year of his presidency claiming New York and other states that didn’t vote for him are crime-infested hellholes, Eric ranted: “Crime is rampant, people are leaving the city in record numbers, it’s dirty, it’s disgusting, New York is no longer what it is. And they have an entire district attorney’s office and attorney general’s office that’s focused on $3.5 million to take down a political opponent? I mean this is what they do, this is New York state for you, this is worse than a banana republic, it’s truly horrible. And Raymond, you know this better than anybody, they’re afraid that my father is going to run in 2024 and they are afraid that he is going to win.” As he, his brother, and all conservatives are contractually obligated to do, Eric then went on to invoke Joe Biden’s son. “They don’t look at corrupt Hunter Biden,” Trump sneered. “No they don’t care about any of that. They care about going after innocent, great human beings.”
In perhaps related news, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told MSBNC on Thursday: “I think that [COO] Matthew Calamari is on the chopping block…on top of that I also believe that there are other members of the Trump Organization, including the children who are next to come up on to these indictments.”
Yesterday, Tristan Snell a former New York assistant attorney general who successfully prosecuted Trump for his scam operation, "Trump University," wrote a piece for the Washington Post, making the point that documents-- a collection of emails, spreadsheets and other corporate files-- may well be more important in prosecuting Trump than testimony from Weisselberg.
There is a reason the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office went all the way to the Supreme Court to get all of these documents. And after they got those documents, there is a reason the New York attorney general’s office elevated their investigation to a criminal probe and joined the district attorney’s effort-- and the two empaneled a special grand jury. These are the actions of veteran prosecutors who know they have the goods.
Even with the best of documents, though, context can be immensely helpful, especially when bringing a case involving an institutional hierarchy. How are decisions made by the top executives? Who signs off on those key decisions? What materials are they shown? What are the customs and habits regarding how work gets done in that organization? What is their modus operandi, in other words?
The Trump Organization has a very clear modus operandi: The animating goal for anyone at the company is to please Donald Trump and avoid his wrath. As we learned during the Trump University case, Trump maintains an exceptionally tight grip on all decision-making-- and above all, on anything that reflects on his public image, like marketing materials, photos and videos of him, words attributed to him, etc. And as Cohen has noted, this includes public-facing financial reports, because they showed his putative wealth and success.
Trump’s highly centralized, command-and-control managerial style led to a culture in which his approval or disapproval was all-important. For example, in the Trump University documents, anytime that someone in the organization had communicated with Trump about something and received his approval, they brandished that fact like a prized trophy, stating in their emails that “Mr. Trump” had said this or that “DJT” had approved that.
This custom within the Trump Organization may help prosecutors to answer an important challenge: how to show Trump’s involvement, even though he does not personally use email. If everyone else in the company recorded every move he made, then his own lack of emails may not matter.
So who will provide this critical context on how the Trump Organization worked? It need not be Weisselberg. It can be anyone in the executive team at Trump Tower, a group that includes McConney, a Trump Organization senior vice president who may already be cooperating with prosecutors. Ultimately, it may end up being Cohen who serves as a sort of Virgil to guide jurors through the underworld of Trump Tower, painting a picture of daily life working for Trump.
This is not to say that Weisselberg is not important; he is, and if he does indeed flip, it will be a major development in the case. But his cooperation is a shortcut, not an essential, even though it makes for a better story in the media. In movies and on TV, the don is undone by his trusted lieutenants’ betrayal. In real life, Trump may be undone by his underlings-- but it may be more by their emails and notes years ago, and less what they say in court.