Donald Trump himself is currently only the subject of a criminal investigation, but on Tuesday, for the first time, a jury found the Trump Organization to be a fraudulent and criminal enterprise.
It was a landmark achievement for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. His prosecutors have just thrown the mark of the king from the throne. The $1.6 million fine the company faces is the lesser of the damages. Now, criminal convictions will place an indelible asterisk next to Trump’s business name.
It was a landmark achievement for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. His prosecutors have just thrown the mark of the king from the throne.
The jury took about 10 hours over less than two days to deliberate and convict the company on the 17 counts of fraud, tax evasion and falsification of business records. Quick criminal verdicts can reflect the strength of prosecutors’ evidence.
In this case, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg provided all that was needed. With serious criminal investigations underway against Trump in Washington, Atlanta and New York, the convictions remind us of the sharpest arrow in a prosecutor’s quiver: knocking down target lieutenants.
Success with this starts with serious investigative groundwork which shows them that they face a long time in the ring unless they cooperate against the top target.
Weisselberg was a Trump loyalist for more than 50 years, a virtual family “apprentice”. He would not have turned over the state’s evidence unless the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office put him to death.
Loyal to the end, Weisselberg never denounced Trump personally at trial and even cooperated with defense attorneys in disclaiming Trump’s involvement in the fraud. Yet Weisselberg’s testimony was the centerpiece of the Trump Organization’s condemnation, as he laid out how he saved the company’s taxes.
For years, the Trump Organization has had a program in place to avoid taxes by compensating top executives off the books. Taxes owed to New Yorkers were hidden under the table via undeclared benefits of apartments and luxury cars and even private school tuition for relatives.
During the trial, the Trump Organization’s defense tried to convince jurors that Weisselberg was a lone criminal wolf who concocted the scheme solely for personal gain.
But as a substitute juror said in an interview with The New York Times, the defense strategy failed to convince jurors that “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.” In fact, insulting the intelligence of the jury backfired, as it inevitably does. Common sense, always a force of the jury system, confirmed that a company’s tax liability — and not just Weisselberg’s — plummeted when it prepared the books to reduce its reported payroll.
The jury didn’t need to assert Trump’s criminality to convict him, but prosecutors in Washington, Fulton County, Georgia and within the Manhattan district attorney’s office are working overtime to build cases that could do just that.
Of course, the jury didn’t have to guess who the primary beneficiary was. Although Trump was not charged by name, the prosecution worked hard to put Trump in the minds of the jurors, arguing in closing arguments that Trump explicitly sanctioned tax evasion and that “this whole narrative that Donald Trump is blissfully ignorant is just not real.” .”
The jury didn’t need to assert Trump’s criminality to convict him, but prosecutors in Washington, Fulton County, Georgia and within the Manhattan district attorney’s office are working overtime to build cases that could do just that. And this judgment against Trump’s flagship company is sure to embolden them.
Prior to the convictions, DA Bragg had already appeared to reinvigorate his stalled criminal investigation into Trump personally by hiring Matthew Colangelo, a highly experienced Justice Department lawyer and complex white-collar fraud investigator. Prior to joining the top level of the DOJ, Colangelo led New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into Trump.
Trump could be forgiven earlier for secretly wondering why he ever ran for president, even as he is running again, motivated in part, it seems, by his prized immunity to lawsuits. He got away with questionable financial conduct for years in New York before taking his misconduct to Washington and multiplying it hundreds of times over.
Putting herself in the national spotlight, there’s no way her misconduct won’t catch the eye of stellar prosecutors.
Trump never admits regret. But thoughts about it might float through his mind at Mar-a-Lago these days. With the first condemnation of his business, they could keep him awake, with the sound of the walls closing.