Former CFO Allen Weisselberg appeared visibly pulled in his Friday testimony between allegiance to his employer and needing to cooperate with prosecutors to satisfy his plea agreement in the criminal trial of the Trump Organization.
The defense attorneys challenged him to that effect several times Friday morning, and attorney Susan Necheles briefly grilled him on his fears of going to jail if the plea deal falls apart.
“What is in my mind is to tell the truth at this trial,” Weisselberg maintained each time he was asked about his motives on the stand.
The line of questioning on cross-examination quickly turned heated between the lawyers, with defense attorney Alan Futerfas objecting to Necheles’ questioning at one point in the exchange.
Weisselberg, the government’s star witness, again distanced former President Donald Trump from the internal “clean up” at the Trump Org. He testified Friday that he mostly dealt with Trump’s sons after Trump was elected president, saying he is not sure what the president knew about the company situation or when.
“Once he was in the White House we had very little communication about things going on in the company,” Weisselberg testified.
He also said that Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., became aware of the illegal practices after an internal review was conducted in 2017 and 2018. Weisselberg acknowledged that no one was disciplined or demoted after the scheme came to light. In fact, he said, he asked Eric Trump for a $200,000 raise in 2019, which he received.
To win a conviction, prosecutors need to prove that Weisselberg intended to benefit the Trump entities – exactly what the jury will need to find will be determined by the judge when he gives the case to the jury.
Weisselberg tread a fine line in his testimony, telling the jury he never wanted to hurt the company – his aim, he said, was mainly to pay less in taxes – but he knew at the time the company would also benefit from his schemes to some extent.
“It was a benefit to the company but primarily it was due to my greed,” he said.
Necheles also pushed Weisselberg to acknowledge that prosecutors want him to draw a correlation between his own greed and the tax perks his scheme offered the companies.
“It is important to the prosecutors for you to testify to that,” she said.
“I don’t know what’s important to the prosecutors,” Weisselberg said.
Weisselberg did testify, however, that he and Jeff McConney, Trump Org. controller, never spoke specifically about benefits to the company or calculated how much the company would save as a result of the under reported income.
“It was understood that by having less payroll you have less payroll taxes,” he said.
Defense attorney Futerfas suggested the benefit to the Trump entities was minimal. He showed the jury a disbursement journal of Trump Org. expenses, including nearly $54,000 on flowers. The defense attorney compared more than $267 million in expenses over eight years with the roughly $24,000 in payroll taxes the companies did not pay on Weisselberg’s unreported fringe benefits spanning 12 years.
Despite Weisselberg’s “betrayal” of the Trumps and their companies, the Trump Org. is still footing the bill for his large team of lawyers from multiple firms. His attorneys are some of the best in the city, Susan Hoffinger, the executive assistant district attorney in the Manhattan prosecutor’s office, said on redirect examination.
Cracking a smile, Weisselberg said: “I hope so.”
The courtroom dissolved into laughter, including from the judge and some jurors, and the prosecutor turned around smiling at Weisselberg’s legal team sitting in the second row of the gallery.
Necheles later clarified with the decades-long Trump Org. executive that he stuck by the Trump family through tough years on the brink of bankruptcy.
“And now you are in the worst time of your life,” Necheles asked.
“I would say yes,” Weisselberg said.
“And he has not kicked you to the curb,” she said.
“He has not,” he responded.
“You don’t understand that to mean he approves of what you did, do you?” Necheles asked.
“No,” Weisselberg said.
The trial has adjourned for the week and will only sit Monday and Tuesday of next week due to the holiday.
Weisselberg is off the stand, after testifying across three days.