Criminal Investigation Targets Top Trump Business Associate

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Legal troubles keep piling up for the Trump team. In the same week that House impeachment investigators held yet another round of public hearings chock full of damaging testimony about the president and his closest associates, ProPublica has come out with a new report outlining the extent of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Trump Organization under the purview of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who’s apparently been focusing on longtime Trump company figure Allen Weisselberg, who presently serves as the company’s chief financial officer. Federal prosecutors themselves spent a considerable amount of time investigating the same topic that’s propelling Vance’s investigation — hush money for adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Daniels has long already gained notoriety as the target of a Trump team scheme to keep her quiet over details of an affair she had with the now president. That plot — as has been described elsewhere — included former longtime Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen taking out a home equity loan that he used to pay her $130,000 in attempted hush money. Weisselberg’s role in the scheme included orchestrating Cohen’s reimbursement, which was masked by false records of the payments as an ordinary legal retainer.

ProPublica explains:

‘Now Vance’s state grand jury is examining whether Weisselberg, among others — and even the Trump Organization — should face state criminal charges for falsification of business records, according to a source familiar with the investigation.’

So far, despite considerable investigation, Cohen is the only one to have faced any criminal charges for the scheme. He pleaded guilty to crimes including federal campaign finance law violations and is now serving a three-year prison sentence that his legal team has (so far fruitlessly) sought to get reduced in exchange for further cooperation with investigating authorities. Vance’s office has taken Cohen up on his availability, though — as recently as October 30, a delegation from Vance’s team met with Cohen at the site of his imprisonment, where “[m]uch of the discussion involved Weisselberg,” ProPublica says.

The publication notes that there’s not any apparent indication of criminal charges for President Donald Trump or his sons themselves, but that definitely doesn’t mean that they’re out of the question. The already tenuous legal precedent that kept the elder Trump from federal prosecution in the federal case against Cohen applies only to those federal cases, not state ones.

Vance originally began his investigation last year, but federal prosecutors with the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) demanded that he put it on hold while their own probe proceeded. Now, Vance has already delivered a subpoena for financial records including tax records from the Trump Organization, which the Department of Justice has been fighting in court.

There’s a two-year statute of limitations in misdemeanor false records cases, and that two-year clock will run out in December 2019. The statute of limitations on felony charges has a longer time frame — five years — but it requires proving that the false records concealed a secondary crime, like tax fraud, in addition to the basic “intent to defraud.”