WASHINGTON In Detroit, General Motors has a board of directors that oversees the management of the company. In Little Rock, Walmart has shareholders who can ultimately hold its board of directors accountable.
And in Manhattan, the Trump Organization has basically only Donald Trump.
Which means that even though Trump and his various supporters try to pretend that Trump is personally clear because only his company faces charges, in this case it is largely an indistinguishable distinction.
“The Trump Organization is an avatar of Donald Trump, in every way imaginable: financially, emotionally and psychologically,” said Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer whom Trump unsuccessfully sued for printing his net worth was a fraction of what he claimed. . “The main business is a mom-and-pop store on Fifth Avenue.”
It is a company that was also the subject of an indictment of fraud on July 1. Prosecutors say the Trump Organization, along with its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, dodged taxes by inappropriately treating the salary incomes of top employees as benefits or as compensation for entrepreneurs.
Trump himself was not personally charged, but O’Brien said it was inconceivable that Trump was not aware of the scheme described in the 25-page indictment, given that only a handful of employees had decision-making power. “None of these others would dare tie their shoes without asking Trump,” he said.
But showing Trump personally benefits and is involved in all aspects of the business doesn’t necessarily mean prosecutors can convict him for his illegal actions.
To do this, New York State, through Manhattan prosecutors and perhaps the state attorney general’s office, would have to show that Trump knew what his company was doing when it was arranging payments. for employees to avoid taxes was illegal, but approved it anyway.
“There has to be personal and specific knowledge,” said Danya Perry, former New York City prosecutor. “You can’t just impute knowledge. “
Neither the Trump spokesperson nor the Trump Organization responded to questions from HuffPost on this topic.
The fact that Trump is the central figure in his companies is made clear in the annual financial statements Trump was forced to file during his presidency. These documents show elaborate and interwoven links between Trump Corp., Trump Payroll Corp. and the hundreds of “limited liability companies” that Trump has created to hold his various assets.
O’Brien said the push to form a different LLC for each different asset Trump owned – right down to individual condominium units in various buildings – was an overreaction to his personal near bankruptcy in the 1990s, when ‘he pledged his personal fortune to support business loans. Despite the Byzantine structure, O’Brien said, in the end, it all comes down to Trump. “It’s basically a local grocery store with a guy behind the counter munching on a burger. And he’s the store owner, ”O’Brien said.
If the intention of the various entities, each with its own governance structure, is to obscure their ownership and control, the strategy has clearly succeeded.
In 2018, for example, the local Palm Beach, Florida newspaper reported that a business run by Trump’s eldest sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump had purchased a beachfront home across the street from the A1A highway from Mar-a-Lago to their father. sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, for $ 18 million. His address: 1125 South Ocean Blvd.
But in May 2019, when Trump filed his annual financial return, a new company, 1125 South Ocean LLC, came forward with assets of between $ 5 million and $ 25 million. Elsewhere in the document, it is stated that the new LLC was 100% owned by DJT Holdings LLC.
DJT Holdings LLC is, in turn, 1% owned by DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC and 99% owned by Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which also owns 100% of DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC.
The argument that [Trump] was not aware that these funds were being given to Weisselberg or others is pure nonsense.
Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen
And that trust – which Trump created to give the false appearance of being cut off from his companies when he took office is personally beneficial to Trump.
“There is nothing that has happened at the Trump Organization that has not passed through Donald’s office,” said its longtime former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who has served a prison sentence federal government for helping Trump arrange secret money payments to women who said they had affairs with him.
Despite Trump’s obvious control over his family business, he, his children and his supporters made efforts to part ways with Weisselberg and the charges against him.
In a deposition last year in a case involving the finances of the 2017 inaugural committee, for example, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump said of Weisselberg: “I do not know what the exact title of his position is, but he is an executive in the company.
And Weisselberg, following his indictment, has been removed from his post in recent weeks as an officer of dozens of Trump companies under the aegis of the Trump Organization.
It’s unclear, however, whether Weisselberg’s public excommunication will work. The indictment clarifies that bonus checks to Weisselberg and other salaried employees labeled as payments to contractors, rather than wages, thereby allowing Trump Corp. to avoid paying federal payroll taxes came from various Trump companies, such as Trump International Golf Club and the Mar -a-Lago Club. And these two entities belong to Trump, through a series of steps similar to the beach house.
Norm Eisen, who served as Barack Obama’s White House ethics attorney and most recently worked for the House committee overseeing Trump’s first impeachment, said trying to blame Weisselberg for everything would be a tough sell.
“It would be more than unlikely. That would be ridiculous, “he said.” Prosecutors have built the framework for a future case targeting Trump personally. … Prosecutors are on the hunt.
“The bonus checks were all signed by Trump,” Cohen said. “The argument that he was unaware that these funds were being given to Weisselberg or others is pure nonsense.”
If Trump is in fact intending to claim he did not know such payments were illegal, he may have offered the first clue at a rally he hosted in Sarasota, Fla., Two days after the indictment was revealed. After attacking the lawsuits as politically motivated and defending the payments in question as examples of his generosity, he wondered aloud in front of the audience whether it was possible to know whether to pay taxes on such benefits. : ” I do not even know. Should you? Does anyone know the answer to this stuff? “
Perry said that while Trump may have tried to lay the groundwork for a defense, he also revealed that he knew a lot about the payments in question. “It could certainly be taken as an admission,” she said. “I’m sure prosecutors are watching him very closely.”
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a founding member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost