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Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization ex-CFO, pleads guilty to 15 felony charges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Where does the investigation of Donald Trump's business go next? The Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer pleaded guilty to 15 felonies. He'll get a five-month jail term. In exchange for that relatively short term, Allen Weisselberg has agreed to testify and tell the truth when former President Donald Trump's business is on trial in criminal court. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the proceeding.

Hey, good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess we should clarify, this is part of the investigation of Donald Trump's business, which is separate from the investigation of his handling of classified material, January 6 and all the other investigations of the former president. What was the proceeding like?

BERNSTEIN: So in some ways, it was dry. New York Judge Juan Merchan read out the charges, and he asked Weisselberg if he committed these crimes. And in each case Weisselberg said, yes, Your Honor, in a sometimes-inaudible voice. There was no sudden finger-pointing at Donald Trump, which did happen, for example, at the guilty plea of another former Trump executive, Michael Cohen. And that was when Cohen said he committed crimes at the direction of a candidate for office, Trump, and when prosecutors called Trump Individual-1. None of that yesterday. It was pro forma, and it was over in an hour.

INSKEEP: But does it point to something a little bit less predictable?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. It wasn't the scene; it was the moment that was dramatic. After years of investigations, there was someone at the very top, Allen Weisselberg, Donald Trump's business alter ego, saying, I committed serious crimes. For example, the judge asked, did he, Allen Weisselberg, from 2005 to June 30, 2021, engage in a scheme to defraud? For almost 16 years, including while Trump was president, at the top of the government, Weisselberg was defrauding. And Weisselberg said yes, he did. He committed crimes from conspiracy to fraud to grand larceny to falsifying business records. Weisselberg admitted to it all, agreed to serve the five months, pay nearly $2 million in penalties and back taxes and testify at the forthcoming trial of Donald Trump's company.

INSKEEP: Although, as you point out, he didn't go out of his way to denounce Donald Trump while pleading guilty. Is it likely that his testimony would some way implicate Trump?

BERNSTEIN: Well, at one point, prosecutors were hopeful that Weisselberg would give them testimony that would tell them about Donald Trump's intent. The case against his business is simpler. In New York, in order for Trump's business to be convicted of a crime, all prosecutors need to show is that high-level executives committed crimes. The fact of Weisselberg's plea already says that, basically. Even so, the Trump Organization is pleading not guilty and is set to go to trial on October 24. But just having Weisselberg say out loud what he did at the former's company and while his boss was president - that is something. And remember, the whole time he was in office, Trump maintained ownership of his company, maintained an eye on his company - unprecedented. The details that we learn at trial about Trump's business and Weisselberg's crimes there could be embarrassing for Trump.

INSKEEP: Although, let's just be clear. This is a forthcoming trial of the company, of the corporate entity, not of the person who personified the company. So Weisselberg will testify in some way. Does that mean that he is cooperating with prosecutors to help them develop further evidence?

BERNSTEIN: Not in the way they originally wanted. Way back before Weisselberg and Trump's company were indicted, there were indications the DA was pressuring Weisselberg to flip and to describe his boss Donald Trump's intent. Was he involved in the scheme? What did he say to Weisselberg? What'd Weisselberg see him do? But Weisselberg never agreed to that, and those questions remained unanswered.

INSKEEP: Can you update us on the Manhattan DA's investigation of Donald Trump himself, a criminal investigation?

BERNSTEIN: So that investigation is officially still ongoing. But it's unclear where new evidence is going to come from. I think what we want to look towards is the civil case that the New York attorney general, Letitia James, is bringing. So this obviously doesn't bring jail time, but she is looking into another vast fraud scheme at Donald Trump's company, this one about cheating tax authorities and bankers by lying about property values. Her remedies could be severe. She could ask to shut down Trump's company or ask for huge financial penalties. We expect to hear more from her in the coming months.

INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein.

Thanks for keeping us straight on the many investigations.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Andrea Bernstein