From our correspondent
WASHINGTON – For the moment there are no precise accusations against Donald Trump. Just suspicious. But the district attorney of Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, yesterday, Thursday, July 1, confirmed the general feeling: the indictments against “officials” of the Trump Organization and its financial director, Allen Weisselberg, “are only the beginning of the work”.
The charges against Weisselberg, who has served the Trump family for 46 years, are 15 in all. More in detail, the Prosecutor accuses him of having hidden fees of 1.7 million dollars from the tax authorities. The list of hidden expenses includes, inter alia: rent for the apartment in a Trump Tower in Manhattan; the leasing of a luxury car; payments to pay grandchildren’s universities. Overall, Allen would not have paid about a million in federal and New York State taxes.
But what does Donald Trump really risk?
The first element to take into account is theextension of Vance’s criminal investigation. The magistrate has been investigating for three years various hypotheses of crimes committed by the Trump Organization: from the falsification of financial statements to obtain loans from banks, to illegal payments, such as the $ 130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.
As can be seen from the papers filed yesterday, Vance stands going back a long way in time: at least 15 years. This means that all the top executives of the holding could be called into question. Starting with the former president’s children: Donald jr, Eric and also Ivanka who joined the family group in 2005 as executive vice president. It is clear to everyone that there is only one man at the top of the pyramid: Donald Trump.
The biggest difficulty for the investigators is that in the Trump company leaves no traces of his passage. No mail, no messages. So far neither Vance nor New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who is conducting a parallel investigation, have found material evidence of Trump’s role. However, things could change. According to rumors, the judiciary would have several checks in hand signed by the head of the company to pay Weisselberg’s expenses illegally, in particular the university fees for the grandchildren of the financial director. The documentation would have been provided by Jennifer Weisselberg, Allen’s ex-daughter-in-law.
The other track it is the one opened by the testimony of Michael Cohen, the former lawyer, Trump’s “pit bull”. In 2019, Cohen revealed the contents of some telephone conversations with the boss, also to the Congress on live TV. One referred to the check paid to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. “I talked to Allen Weisselberg about it,” Cohen says in the tape; “Well,” replies “The Donald.” It will be necessary to see, however, if these clues can be consolidated. In this case, Trump could be indicted for at least participating in a 15-year tax fraud. It is a crime punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
But Vance’s goals seem to be more ambitious. The prosecutor is trying to convince Weisselberg to cooperate, in exchange for a relief from the sentence. It is a classic pattern. It worked with Cohen; a little less with Paul Manafort, an old friend and for a certain period leader of the Trump election campaign. It proved completely ineffective, however, with Roger Stone, another longtime friend and advisor to the former president. Now it’s up to Weisselberg. His loyalty to the clan leader, first to Fred and then to Donald, has been rock solid for 46 years. It is also true, however, that he had never been faced with the alternative: either you collaborate or you do at least ten years behind bars. Vance and Letitia James want to see if the Trump Organization didn’t have a double accounting system: artificially inflated to impress banks and get more loans; cut to the bone to evade, if not evade, federal and state taxes. The basic penalty for falsification of financial statements is three years in prison. Then there could be aggravating circumstances.
These days Trump has reacted furiously to Vance’s moves. In a television interview he defended Weisselberg’s “integrity” and accused the “prosecutors of the far left New Yorkers” to want to persecute him for political reasons. It is the same argument used three times to respond to the impeachment initiated by the Chamber of Deputies. First, in 2019 for Russiagate, the suspected collusion with the Kremlin to damage Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. Then, in 2020, Ukrainagate pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to reopen a corruption investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe’s son. Finally, in 2021, on charges of having instigated the assault on Capitol Hill on 6 January. In all three cases, Trump was saved by the Republican vote in the Senate. This network is gone now.
Vance has convened a Grand Jury, a jury normally made up of 6-12 citizens, who are responsible for decide whether the evidence presented by the Attorney is sufficient to proceed to criminal indictment. It is a kind of collective investigating judge, a mini assembly that decides by qualified majority. In any case, the Prosecutor can always decide to bring the accused to the hearing. This procedure can take up to six months. And here the form intersects with the substance.
Vance, 66, will leave office at the end of December, but his investigation may at this point seriously damage the rematch plans Trump’s policy. In history, no former American president has ever undergone a criminal trial.