Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded not guilty to tax crime charges Thursday afternoon, one day after he and the business were indicted. A lawyer for the company also pleaded not guilty to what prosecutors called a 15-year scheme to defraud the government "orchestrated by the most senior executives," per the AP. One important point: Donald Trump himself was not charged on Thursday. Coverage:
- Allegations: Among other things, prosecutors allege that the 73-year-old Weisselberg received sweet perks from his employer, and that neither he nor the Trump Organization paid taxes on those perks, reports the Washington Post. Think free apartments, leased cars, and private tuition for at least one of his grandchildren. Specifically, they accuse Weisselberg of avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in compensation, per the New York Times.
- The big question: The Wall Street Journal notes that it's unusual for prosecutors to bring a case based on improper fringe benefits. But the context is that this is seen as the opening salvo in a more sweeping investigation of the Trump family finances. "The biggest worry for Trump, without question, is the possibility that Weisselberg will flip and assist prosecutors against his boss," writes Niall Stanage at the Hill. The main charge against him, grand larceny, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
- Trump response: Trump himself already has denounced the indictment as a political witch hunt against him, and the Trump Organization on Thursday called Weisselberg "a pawn in a scorched-earth attempt to harm the former president.” Trump may indeed score at least a short-term political gain from this, notes the New York Times, but "he could face the costly distraction of a trial if he attempts to mount another presidential campaign."
- Pushing back: "“There’s no clearer example of a company that should be held to account,” Carey Dunne of the Manhattan district attorney’s office told state court Justice Juan Merchant on Thursday. “It’s not about politics.”
- A profile: The Journal has a separate profile of Weisselberg, who began as a junior accountant working for Trump's father and is now considered the most important member of the Trump Organization outside the family. The story asserts that Weisselberg shunned perks early in his career but changed as he grew more important to Trump in the 2000s. “Allen bragged all the time that he was so important to Donald that he gave him a deluxe apartment in the sky,” says the CFO's former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, referring to a Manhattan residence at Trump Place
- Nice gift: In the Journal profile, the ex-daughter-in-law recounts a day in 2004 when her fiance, Weisselberg's son Barry, walked her to an apartment near Central Park. “He said, ‘Congratulations, this is a gift from Donald and Melania for our wedding." She says the couple lived there about six years without paying rent because it was deemed a "corporate apartment."
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